We might not frequent playgrounds at lunch anymore, but that does not mean we have left everything reminiscent of those times behind. Call someone a bully, and usually the image evoked is a mean kid ruling the playground with the brute force of his fists, or a cruel girl with a sharp tongue to inflict more pain than a fist ever could. And while bullies grow up, they don’t always change. That girl who relied on gossip and put-downs to get ahead? She might sit in the cubicle next to yours. That guy that took pleasure in picking on those weaker than him? He might sit in the big corner office.
Bullying in the workplace is on the rise, according to research, yet few companies have policies in place to deal with this “silent epidemic”. Those that do often fail to carry them out properly. Michael Mercieca kept the faith and after seven years finally saw the courts order Microsoft to pay for bullying him to a near breaking point. The judge in the Texas employment labor law case, Tim Sulak, has issued a Final Judgement ordering Microsoft to pay $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages and legal fees. Judge Sulak found the tech giant guilty of “acting with malice and reckless indifference” in an organized office retaliation against salesman Mercieca.
The story began sometime before 2007 when Mercieca ended a relationship with a woman who went on to become his boss. Conditions at work began to change for him. Even though Mercieca went to the human relations department at Microsoft, the company did not act and allowed the behaviors to continue and even to escalate.
In addition to complaining about his own treatment in the workplace, Mercieca directly complained to Microsoft icon Steve Ballmer about sexist and racist comments made in the office by VP Eddie O’Brien.
“I wrote directly to Ballmer and told him what O’Brien said after the tsunami in Japan,” says Mercieca. “He said, ‘I would have zero pity for Japan. I would throw them right under the bus and create another tsunami if I have to.” That complaint to Ballmer, Mercieca maintains, was another reason his co-workers began to isolate him and make the workplace hostile toward him.
Mercieca and his legal team of two lawyers were up against 250 lawyers that Microsoft set to work on the case. Despite that, Mercieca and his lawyers Roy Pollack and Paul T. Morin of Austin, Texas, four years of litigation and some 90,000 documents eventually won the day.
“Rather than do the right thing, the management team went after Michael by getting a female employee to file a sexual harassment complaint and a complaint of retaliation against him,” says Paul T. Morin. “Microsoft could have taken Mercieca’s charges seriously and disciplined the senior manager but instead it engaged in the worst kind of corporate bullying.”