The age of the Internet has opened a lot of options to people — some good, some bad. Unfortunately, under the bad, it has become a tool for those who wish to harass others, including their co-workers.
In an incident that recently came to our attention, a young girl was harassed by a co-worker who chose to show her a YouTube video of a man being decapitated. The co-worker had also previously threatened to kill the girl. After the video incident, she could not sleep at night, and could not bring herself to eat meat. The girl reported both incidents to the manager, who said he would speak to the co-worker, however, he had no intention of firing the young man, who he considered to be a good worker.
“This is an extreme example of a person with a sick mind preying on a young girl at her first job,” said Jeffrey Freedman, managing attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys at Law, PLLC. “In this case, the girl was only 17.”
This girl suffered from emotional distress as a result of the harassment, which qualifies as employment discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A person who has been harassed under these circumstances can recover money damages under what is called “compensatory damages.” More typical cases would be bullying either in the workplace or online, sexual harassment, or discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity.
“The amount of money you wish to sue for will determine the extent of the evidence you have to provide to prove your case,” Freedman said. “If you want a high amount of damages then you will likely need testimony from a physician or mental health professional to support your claim. In cases where the client is seeking a smaller amount, they can testify themselves and have family, friends and co-workers testify as to how the harassment has affected them.”
If you or someone you know is being harassed and has any of the following symptoms, they may be able to recover damages for emotional distress:
- a diagnosed psychiatric condition such as depression or anxiety,
- strained relationships with family and friends,
- harm to their reputation.
“If you think you have grounds for recovering emotional damages, keep any evidence such as journals, emails, and texts; and think about friends and family who might be witnesses for you,” Freedman said. “And remember that you will be called upon to re-live your experiences through your testimony. Your employer can also ask for information regarding your past medical and psychological history, or ask for an independent medical exam.”
The young girl in the YouTube video incident is undergoing counseling, and her parents insisted she quit the job (after they spoke to the manager themselves). The family is considering all options.