ABSTRACT

Scholars and employees across the United States recognize that workplace bullying remains legal unless the aggressive behavior can be tied to a protected class status under Title VII. A few states have adopted legislation prohibiting workplace bullying. However, these laws do not allow employees to take independent legal action while the employer is granted immunity for having policies or an occasional training. The conspicuous assumption remains that workplace bullying is not actionable in the legal system. What employers may overlook is the real possibility that a target of workplace bullying can align workplace bullying behaviors with Civil Rights violations, whistleblower violations, Title IX violations, and federally prohibited behaviors. Simultaneously, management may hinder human resources from curbing workplace bullying despite the legal hazard to organizations when the complainant can link workplace bullying with an illegal federal employment law.

To analyze the association between workplace bullying and illegal behavior in American higher education, I used a theoretical framework of Ignorance Theory. Also, I have incorporated two data sets for this chapter. First, I analyzed responses from higher education human resources and diversity officers, n = 215, to confirm a statistically significant finding that increased internal complaints regarding workplace bullying are more likely to lead to external complaints to the EEOC, OCR, Department of Labor, Whistleblower agency or state-level human rights commission. Also, I have included data collected from HBCU faculty members, n = 351, of all ranks from 45 institutions across 15 states to confirm that workplace bullies were more likely to engage illegal behavior. For collegiate institutions that neglect workplace bullying disputes with the presupposition that workplace bullying is not actionable, the data analyses confirm that even without a direct pathway to a legal complaint, targets of workplace bullying can successfully include workplace bullying behaviors in legal complaints claiming retaliation and other organization transgressions that are rooted in structural inadequacies.