Critics Say Nevada Anti-Bullying Bill Too Subjective

By | March 15, 2011

Critics of a bill that would protect against workplace discrimination based on physical appearance told legislators that the anti-bullying components of the measure were too broad and could open the door to frivolous lawsuits against employers.

State law currently bars discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion and other attributes. AB90, which is sponsored by Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, extends that protection to characteristics such as weight, height and physical mannerisms.

It also outlaws bullying in the workplace, and provides unlimited back pay, damages and attorney’s fees in discrimination cases, similar to remedies offered under federal anti-discrimination laws.

“Vast numbers of people are vulnerable to weight prejudice and its consequences,'” said Las Vegas small business owner Peggy Howell, noting that about two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese but only one state — Michigan — has a law against weight-based discrimination.

Proponents of the measure cited studies that workplace bullying is four times as common as sexual harassment and leads to anxiety, lack of productivity and, in extreme cases, suicide.

Business groups affirmed the bill’s goal of a fair workplace, but said the bill was too subjective.

“This is a difficult bill to testify against,” said Sam McMullen of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. “… Someone could always say some physical characteristic was behind a hiring decision.”

The anti-bullying elements of the measure bar “repeated verbal abuse” and “the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a person’s work product.” Opponents said that could lead to anxiety on the employer’s side — does telling an employee to clean their desk qualify as verbal abuse?

“It would make an employer so nervous that they’ll cross a line,” said Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Tray Abney. “It’s a good jobs bill for attorneys.”

Members of the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee did not vote on the bill.

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