Threatening lawyer/boss most certainly can be sued

Lynne Curry

Q. Until this morning, I worked for three diva lawyers -- all male. Each expects the staff to bump the other two lawyers' work for their projects and throws a snit fit when he needs something done and those of us "here to serve" can't make ourselves immediately available.

This morning, the meanest of them, "John," threw a last-minute assignment on my desk, curtly ordering me to "finish this by 12 noon." I was slamming through two other rush projects and said, "No can do."

Before I could explain, John lunged toward me cursing loudly. He had his fists raised and was almost on top of me with one fist an inch from my nose. I panicked, jumped out of my chair and headed for the door. John got between me and the door and pointed at the desk, yelling, "Sit down and do it!"

I was terrified. John's a big man. My legs were shaking so hard I could hardly move.

Just then the office manager walked by with two clients. John heard them and stalked off. After the office manager took the clients to the conference room, she returned and asked me, "What was that all about?"

"That," I said, "was my last minute working here." She interviewed me and then told me it was my fault for saying "No way."

I am completely done and furious. I've been looking online for how to sue them. My friends say I'm out of my mind to sue a law firm, but it's not right what happened.

A. You can sue lawyers.

Although no laws protect you against bullies, criminal laws protect you against assault.

An Indiana Supreme Court awarded a hospital health care worker $325,000 on an assault claim after a cardiovascular surgeon came toward him with clenched fists, a beet-red face and popping veins. Believing he was about to be hit, the worker backed up against a wall and put his hands up to protect himself.

Although the surgeon stopped, he fired the worker, saying, "You're finished, you're history."

The worker, too ill to return to his job, sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress and assault. The worker prevailed on the assault charge despite the fact that the verbal altercation didn't become physical, with the court ruling that workplace bullying was a general concept that could be part of a claim for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In addition to suing, you can file a complaint with the Alaska Bar Association.

According to Steve Van Goor, bar counsel, the Alaska Supreme Court adopted rules of professional conduct for Alaska lawyers, including Rule 8.4(b), which notes that a lawyer commits misconduct if he or she commits a criminal act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.

Meanwhile, if you're in the right, don't fear suing these lawyers. It may work to your advantage that you worked for three warring divas. Instead of banding together when trouble hits, you may witness the other lawyers turning on John and hanging him out to dry.

Finally, regardless of what your office manager said and although you triggered John's wrath when you responded "No way," you didn't deserve what John dished out. No one deserves being cussed or screamed at.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Questions can be directed to her at