Regardless of the progress made through legislation over the years, discrimination and bigotry still exist and utilize more subtle tactics to exclude perceived undesirables from groups and organizations of all kinds. Although mobbing is usually described as a status-blind form of harassment it also can be used by some to mask discrimination directed at individuals associated with those groups protected by law.

The 1993 award winning film, Philadelphia, is a good example of how this can happen. The main character Andrew Beckett, brilliantly played by Tom Hanks, is a young attorney with great credentials at one of the city's leading legal firms. He was the "whiz kid" of the firm. They'd recruited him from a top school and he had not disappointed them. He was sharp, savvy, and put in long hours, proud to be a part of the prestigious organization. He loved his work and it showed in the successes he had achieved. He is promoted to senior associate and given an important, difficult and time sensitive case. While being congratulated by other members of the management team, one of them notices and asks about a mark on his forehead. Andy offers a quick explanation, not realizing that the questioner (who becomes the mobber) has recognized the mark as a skin lesion characteristic of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Following the pattern of mobbing as an organizational dynamic, elements that already exist within the organization have influenced Andy to not inform his employer of his sexual orientation and the fact that he has AIDS. These same elements contribute to the environment in which the mobber is able to engage in activities engineered to discredit Andy and encourage his termination. Within weeks of being promoted, he is fired for incompetence. As Andy endeavors to have the discrimination exposed and his employers held accountable, we hear words and phrases such as "sabotage" "set up" and "wrongful termination" which are very familiar to those of us who have expertise with this subject.

Members of the management group who feel uncomfortable with what is transpiring are intimidated by the mobber. The word "mobbing" is never used but the five phase process and their associated behaviors become apparent during the litigation process as the story unfolds. Toward the end of the court proceedings, we hear even the lead counsel for the firm whisper, "I hate this case" and when others at the table quietly express discomfort at Andy's distress while on the stand, the mobber coldly remarks, "He asked for it."

Laws, regulations, policies, and procedures may limit behavior but they do little to change attitudes. That is why dignity and respect principles being included in stated expectations of conduct, while being important, are not enough to stop mobbing or other forms of harassment and discriminatory activity. These concepts must be learned through deepened insight and then demonstrated by acting with expanded awareness. Otherwise they risk becoming merely fine words on paper.

©2010 Gail Pursell Elliott All rights reserved

Author's Bio: 

Gail Pursell Elliott is “The Dignity and Respect Lady” and a nationally recognized expert on Mobbing, Bullying and harassment in schools and workplaces. She has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management in the health care and human services industries and founded Innovations Training in 1998. She is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Her weekly e-letter, Food for Thought is read by people around the world. Gail presents at conferences across the United States, trains employees and consults for corporations, associations and universities. Contact Gail through her website: