A lot of us connect bullying with school children or the internet, but, as evidenced in the case we’re featuring this week, bullying can take place at any point in life. When it happens in the workplace, though, the victim has legal recourse, and the consequences can be great for an employer that doesn’t protect its employee.
This is exactly what happened in our case example from Austin, Texas. Michael Mercieca, formerly a senior sales executive with Microsoft, successfully sued and was awarded $11.6 million. His lawyers cited the corporation’s inaction in dealing with a group of employees who created a hostile work environment in which Mercieca was continually harassed and, well, bullied.
When Mercieca finally reported the harassment to human resources, nothing was done.
Mercieca spent 17 years traveling for Microsoft and was consistently given positive performance reviews. But after he ended a relationship with a co-worker, who later become his supervisor, Mercieca was falsely accused of sexual harassment and retaliated against by a group of employees at the company. His former girlfriend, and now supervisor, decreased his expense budget, failed to invite him to important meetings, and continually repeated the false accusations of sexual harassment to her superiors. She also claimed that he had falsified his expense reports and encouraged employees loyal to her to make additional fabricated allegations against him.
When Mercieca finally reported the harassment to human resources, nothing was done. In fact, he was denied promotions, and other managers began contacting his sales clients in an attempt to find evidence of wrongdoing, of which there was none.
Microsoft is not the only company to have engaged in this kind of behavior.
When his suit went to trial, Microsoft fought the charges, bringing on board approximately 250 lawyers to the case. Mercieca had two, but after four years and reviews of more than 90,000 documents, his decision to persevere paid off with a decision in his favor.
Microsoft is not the only company to have engaged in this kind of behavior, but it is a very high-profile example of the lengths an organization will go to protect itself. In 2013, the US Equal Opportunity Commission named workplace retaliation as it’s number one source of complaints and litigation.