HR Life and Law in Hollywood


What all of us do—solve legal problems arising in the workplace—occasionally appears on film. Sometimes accurate; sometimes flawed; and sometimes funny. To collect those Hollywood moments, we sent our college interns (Elizabeth Hernandez, Heidi Savabi, and Chandler James) into NetFlix and YouTube to search for nominees. Now, we invite you to vote for your favorite or to submit a write-in ballot for a scene that we overlooked or ignored.

And, the nominees for best film portrayal of the world of employment law are…

Margin Call (2011): RIF

The opening scene is a large-scale RIF. Be patient and wait for Stanley Tucci to be told of his selection. Bonus points if you catch the one legal mistake; irony points if you have ever said or done (or coached anyone else on) any of the things that are done in this scene.

The Informant (2009): whistleblowing

Matt Damon illustrates in this scene some of the psychological traits commonly found in whistleblowers. As whistleblowing claims increase under SOX, Dodd-Frank, and other federal and state statutes, it is necessary to understand what motivates and drives whistleblowers as much as it is necessary to understand the legal defenses.

Up In the Air (2009): termination

This clip features George Clooney firing a long-term employee. Do not try this script: this is fiction and never happens in real life. This is the brilliant and life-saving conversation that we want to have and never do. Dream on! We aren’t as handsome as Clooney and the people across the desk NEVER have the courtesy to follow the script and have an epiphany as J.K. Simmons (playing “Bob” in this scene) does.

Philadelphia (1993): disability discrimination

Can you sound like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington as you explain the “essence of discrimination” to decision-makers? Do you hear the echoes of another movie scene in their reading of why stereotypes are wrong?

Norma Rae (1979): unionization

Norma Rae’s employer is a case study in how NOT to respond to union activity. This film clip is grainy and looks more like a 19th century union campaign than the modern 21st century strategic campaigns that rely more on public pressure than employee pressure like the UFCW’s WalMart Watch.

North Country (2005): sexual harassment

Here, Charlize Theron’s character is subject to vile harassment while working in a male-dominated mine. Hard to believe that this occurred.  But the film itself is based on the landmark case, Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 130 F. 3d 1287, 1292 (8th Cir. 1997) which was the first class-action harassment suit in United States history.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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