Workplace Bullying Decision Long Overdue

The employment law landscape is ever-changing. The Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Raess v. Doescher (Supreme Court) is proof positive. In that case, a jury awarded the plaintiff-hospital technician, Joseph Doescher, $325,000 for the assault he experienced from the hospital’s supervising surgeon, Daniel Raess. Claims for assault are nothing new. What makes this case unique is the evidence that the plaintiff had the opportunity to present. In this particular case, the supervising surgeon had a colorful history of, shall we say, treating his colleagues and subordinates with disrespect. Put differently, the defendant was a “workplace bully.” Seeking to exclude all evidence related to the surgeon’s prior outbursts, the defense asked the trial court to instruct the jury as follows:

“Workplace bullying” is not at issue in this matter, nor is there any basis in the law for a claim of “workplace bullying.” In other words, you are not to determine whether or not the Defendant, Daniel Raess, was a “workplace bully.” The issues are as I have instructed you: whether the Defendant assaulted the Plaintiff, Joseph Doescher on November 2, 2001, and whether that assault constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The trial court refused the instruction. The Appeals Court in Raess v. Doescher (Appeals Court) reversed on the basis that the probative value of the workplace bullying evidence was substantially outweighed by the unfair prejudice. In the end, the Indiana Supreme Court had the last say:

In determining whether the defendant assaulted the plaintiff or committed intentional infliction of emotional distress, the behavior of the defendant was very much an issue. The phrase “workplace bullying,” like other general terms used to characterize a per-son’s behavior, is an entirely appropriate consideration in determining the issues before the jury.

As expected, the jury’s verdict was upheld. For more information about the decision, please visit the Boston Business Journal’s article entitled, Bullies beware: Employees have more options — including court — to confront bad bosses.