A Workplace Nightmare: Who Decides?

by Polina Bodner Shapiro, Esq.

The summer is winding to a close and with it, the relaxation of vacation and time-off spent with family and friends. People are gradually returning to the normal rhythms of their work places, as well as their stresses.

For better or worse, every office has its own cast of characters: the jokester, the slacker, the gossip, the brownnose, to name a few.  But there are also those fellow employees who can make your job downright miserable. What happens when your coworker’s behavior goes beyond annoying, and becomes insulting and emotionally harmful? And what type of legal remedy is available, if any?

In Cassotto v. Aeschliman, 130 Conn. App. 230 (2011), a plaintiff brought suit against a coworker for intentional infliction of emotional distress. To demonstrate intentional
infliction of emotional distress in Connecticut, it is necessary to show that (1) the person intended to inflict the harm or knew it was likely to result; (2) the conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) the conduct directly caused the emotional distress; and (4) the distress caused was severe.

You may be asking, naturally, how extreme and how outrageous? In Cassotto, the plaintiff complained that the defendant deliberately lied to him about commands that came from the plaintiff’s superior, and thus endangered his job. The defendant spread rumors
that the plaintiff was prone to outbursts and irrational behavior. The defendant also became violently angry at the plaintiff, and seemingly threatened him when he looked at the plaintiff and said “Bang, Bang.”

The defendant certainly may have had some answering to do with the HR department, but as far as the court was concerned, that level of annoying behavior was NOT an example of extreme and outrageous conduct. The opinion reiterated that it was the court’s prerogative
to decide what constituted extreme and outrageous conduct for the purpose of intentional infliction of emotional stress, and at least in this case, they seemed intent on setting a high standard.

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