Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

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http://blogs.hrhero.com/thatswhatshesaid/wp-content/blogs.dir/2/files/userphoto/jaclynwest.jpgLitigation Value: David Wallace, get your metaphorical wallet out. You’ve got settlement checks for Erin ($2,500-$5,000 for sexual harassment and potentially a lot more for invasion of privacy), Pete ($5,000-$10,000 for sex discrimination and a touch of IIED) and Alice (the weakest claim, but still worth $1,000 or so for nuisance value) to write.

What a night in Scranton. Dwight has roped Angela into acting as caregiver for his elderly aunt (best quote of the night: “Loose braids reflect a loose character.”) and Pam is interviewing for an office manager job (which turns out to be a receptionist position in disguise) for the Michael Scott of the Philadelphia real estate industry. There’s plenty of material there, but I’ll leave that for one of my esteemed colleagues to discuss on re-runs, because I want to talk about the A plot.

Andy and Erin are officially kaput, and Erin has moved on to dating Pete, or “Plop” as Andy has been calling him. It doesn’t take long for Andy to figure out what’s going on here: he snoops in Erin’s phone and finds out she has been texting someone named “Pete,” and – after a rather embarrassing interval – puts two and two together (to quote Holly, “Math is hard.”) and realizes that Pete and “Plop” are the same person. Cue jealous rage in three… two… one…

Andy’s first move is to fire “Plop.” (Yes, buckle in, because I’m going to go ahead and refer to Pete as “Plop” for the rest of this blog post.) We at F&H will be forever grateful to Toby for stepping in and explaining that, just like with Nellie, Andy can’t just go around firing people. (The difference, Andy claims, is that his grudge against Nellie was professional, and his grudge against “Plop” is personal. Well, Toby might have over-shot the mark on Nellie; it’s not discrimination to fire someone because you just don’t like them, can’t work with them, or caught them red-handed in a plot to usurp your position and steal your job. But he’s right that firing “Plop” would have been a bad decision, since “Plop” would have had a pretty good argument that he was fired because he was a man (who happens to have stolen the boss’s girlfriend). Dunder Mifflin would have been writing a settlement check over that one.

Once Toby torpedoed Andy’s plan to fire “Plop,” the two lovebirds made an uncomfortable situation worse by trying to administer some tough love to Andy, essentially telling him to grow up and get over it. (Okay, I’m not in favor of what Andy did… or what he does next… but the guy has been in love with Erin for years. Ya think it might take him more than one day to get over it?) So Andy decides to test “Plop” and Erin’s own powers of “growing up and getting over it” by hiring two new employees – a marketing consultant, who happens to be “Plop’s” ex-girlfriend Alice, and a management consultant, who happens to be… Gabe. And to make the situation just as uncomfortable as possible for “Plop” and Erin, Andy gleefully seats Alice across from “Plop,” and Gabe right next to the reception desk. Alice and “Plop” immediately begin to bicker, and Gabe settles in with an apparent mission to creep Erin out by telling her how he lost his job, and fifty pounds from his bird-like frame, after she broke up with him. (Not to worry, he gained the weight back.) Andy then calls the entire group into the conference room to further fan the flames of awkwardness.

Erin has a laundry list of possible claims here. There’s the obvious one: sexual harassment, which is an occupational hazard of supervisor-subordinate relationships everywhere. Most companies either prohibit these relationships, strongly discourage them, or take steps to immediately reassign one of the parties (usually the supervisor, to avoid any allegations of retaliation or favoritism) so as to break up the supervisory chain between the lovebirds. The reason: what was once a consensual, mutually agreed-upon relationship between boss and subordinate often becomes coercive when the relationship ends and the subordinate decides to rewrite history. (It doesn’t always happen, and there are certainly times when the relationship was truly coercive from the beginning… but a bad breakup doesn’t bring out the best in anyone.) While anyone who has watched “The Office” the past few seasons knows that Erin was just as “in” the relationship as Andy was at the beginning, a jury might not. Should Erin decide that she was only dated Andy because he was her boss and she felt she had to (shades of Gabe here), she could pursue a sexual harassment claim with some considerable success. Dunder Mifflin would be well advised to settle the matter before it goes too far (and no, the “love contract” Andy and Erin presumably filled out probably isn’t going to help much if Erin decides to rewrite history).

To Erin’s sexual harassment claim, David Wallace will need to add a fairly substantial sum to settle some tort claims. First off, there’s Erin’s claim for invasion of privacy when Andy snooped in her phone. Then there’s Gabe’s, Erin’s, Alice’s and “Plop’s” claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress after Andy forced them all to work with their exes. (Gabe and Alice probably don’t have much of a claim for IIED, since Andy really wasn’t trying to inflict emotional damage on them; they were just pawns in his plan to inflict emotional damage on “Plop” and Erin. Still, their Dunder Mifflin experiences were far from pleasant, and David Wallace may want to write small checks to each of them to avoid any future discomfort.)

Oh, my goodness, Andy. You’ve really landed Dunder Mifflin in a sticky situation this time. And… not to go all “Toby” on you guys… but these kind of outcomes are exactly the reason why your lawyer and HR generalist keep telling you that office relationships are almost always a bad idea. For every Michael and Holly, there’s a Michael and Jan. Remember that.

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