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Court: Being a tough boss is perfectly legal

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

There’s no state or federal law that requires work to be easy or fun. As long as managers treat employees alike—without regard to race, age, sex or other protected characteristic, and don’t otherwise violate the law—they can be as unpleasant as they want. Having a jerk for a boss isn’t grounds for a lawsuit.

Recent case: Noreen went to work for a hospitality group as a director and team leader. She supervised a three-person staff responsible for booking business and social events at one of the company’s inns. The team called on existing and potential clients, reserved blocks of rooms, prepared contracts and coordinated with other teams responsible for food and beverage operations.

Noreen was the only female director.

Soon after being hired, it became apparent that Noreen had trouble working with her colleagues and subordinates. Her own supervisor described her as having a “prickly personality.”

He would know, judging by later accounts of his own contentious interactions with Noreen and other directors—all men. They all complained that the supervisor treated them poorly, berated them in meetings and generally made the workplace unpleasant.

Noreen quit after being placed on probation following several costly booking mistakes.

Then she sued, alleging sex discrimination. Pointing to a long list of unpleasant interactions with her boss, Noreen said she felt she had been demeaned.

But her co-workers testified that the supervisor was essentially an equal-opportunity jerk. Since nothing about his behavior showed any favoritism based on sex, the case was dismissed. (Bundschuh v. The Inn on the Lake, No. 09-CV-6037, WD NY, 2012)

Bottom line: Owners, managers and supervisors can use the management style they prefer—as long as everyone is subject to the same rules.

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