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Good news: Bullying and verbal abuse probably are not emotional distress

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Complying with federal anti-discrimination laws is hard enough. Georgia employers know they have to make sure employees of every race receive fair and equitable treatment.

But sometimes a rogue supervisor comes along who bullies or verbally abuses a subordinate.

While such conduct may sometimes violate Title VII and other federal laws, it seldom results in additional awards for emotional distress under Georgia law. And that’s good news because losing an emotional distress case can be expensive. Unlike the limits set on Title VII claims, there is no cap on state emotional distress awards.

Recent case:
Chet Grimsley, a white supervisor, claimed that his white boss regularly belittled him and gave him more work than the other supervisors—who were black. Grimsley alleged that he got the extra work because his boss refused to make his black co-workers do theirs. Apparently, he told Grimsley over and over again that the black supervisors were lazy and couldn’t get their work done.

Grimsley quit and sued for race discrimination and emotional distress under Georgia state law.

But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case. The court reasoned that to successfully sue a supervisor for emotional distress, the employee has to show that the supervisor’s conduct was truly outrageous. In this case, the conduct was “unprofessional and unacceptable” but not outrageous. (Grimsley v. Marshall’s, et al., No. 07-15102, 11th Cir., 2008) 

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