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Wilson v. Monarch Paper Co.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Wilson, was employed with Monarch Paper Co. (Monarch)), a division of Unisource Corporation, which was itself a division of Alco Standard Corporation (Alco), for more than thirty years. In 1981, Wilson elected Bisbee to be the new president of the company. Bisbee and Gozon, the president of Unisource, wanted to remove Wilson from the company because they wanted younger individuals in charge of management. Bisbee provided Wilson an ultimatum by providing Wilson three employment options. Wilson decided to work in the warehouse. At the warehouse, Wilson was responsible for performing menial labor by himself. Also, Wilson’s supervisor would regularly make harass and verbally abuse Wilson due to his age. As a result of these conditions in the warehouse, Wilson became physically and mentally unstable. Wilson was hospitalized twice. Wilson brought suit against Monarch, Unisource, and Alco. A jury found for Wilson on the grounds of Age Discrimination in Employment Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Texas law. Defendants appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When there is a showing of purposeful, systematic, and sever humiliation by the defendant at a workplace, the defendant may be liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    Facts.

    In 1970, Richard Wilson, at the age of forty-eight, joined Monarch Paper Co. (Monarch)), a division of Unisource Corporation, which was itself a division of Alco Standard Corporation (Alco). Wilson was responsible for managing Monarch’s Corpus Christi unit until 1977. After 1977, he was promoted to a corporate director position at the company’s Houston offices. In 1980, Wilson was designated Vice President. In 1981, he was providedan additional title of Assistant to John Blankenship, Monarch’s president. Wilson’s work was always highly regarded. In 1981, he was responsible for managing the company’s largest construction project to date, and he completed the project under the budget. Likewise, inthat year, Monarch elected a new president, 42-year-old Hamilton Bisbee. Among the company, there wasgossiping regarding the age of the company’s management team and about the promotion of younger individuals.Both Bisbee and Richard Gozon, the 43-year-old president of Unisource, wanted to get remove of Wilson from the company. Bisbee refused to speak to or acknowledge Wilson. Over time, both Bisbee and Gozonbegan to give Wilson’s duties to other people. In or around June 1982, Bisbee gave Wilson three options: be terminated with three months’ severance, take a sales position in Corpus Christi with a decreased pay, or take a warehouse supervisor position in Houston with the same pay, but with a decrease in benefits, including participation in the bonus program, a company car, an expense account, and a club membership. Ultimately, Wilsondecided to take the warehouse position, thinking he would be managingthe warehouse. However, Bisbee gave himan entry-level position, one that required less than one year’s experience. At that moment, Wilson not only had a college degree, but he also had 30 years’ experience in the industry. At the warehouse, Wilson’s supervisor regularly harassed and verbally abused him by making and posting derogatory statements about his age. Wilson was designated to work on housekeeping at the warehouse by without any assistance. Thus, 75 percent of his job required him to do menial labor, such as sweeping the building and cleaning the cafeteria. Thereafter, Wilson began to experience respiratory issues due to the dust. Likewise, Wilson was diagnosed with reactive depression from the stress he endured at his work environment. Before these circumstances, Wilson did not have prior psychological problems. During March 1983, Wilson had a psychological episode, causing him to be involuntary hospitalized. Wilson gradually established a long-lasting depression, requiring him to be hospitalized against and treated with electric-shock therapy. During February 1984, Wilson brought suit against Monarch, Unisource, and Alco. A jury found for Wilson on the grounds of Age Discrimination in Employment Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Texas law. Defendants appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a showing of purposeful, systematic, and sever humiliation by the defendant at a workplace supports a finding of liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    Held.

    Yes,a showing of purposeful, systematic, and sever humiliation by the defendant at a workplace supports a finding of liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

    Discussion.

    Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), one is subject to a higher standard for civil liability under intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). Under an IIED cause of action,one must prove that the conduct is “extreme and outrageous” and “beyond all possible bounds of decency.” Courts are aware that the workplace is a location where there is generally some level of taunting as well as criticism and demotions. At the same time, compelling a worker to quit through “constructive” discharge is also common. These practices may establish an ADEA claim, but they do not always establish a finding for IIED. In this case, the way that the defendants removed Wilson from his executive position and demoted him to janitorial work sufficiently proves extreme and outrageous behavior. Defendants intentionally and systematically acted in a degrading, humiliating, and mean-spirited manner. Therefore, both the IIED claim and the ADEA claim are affirmed.


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