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Constant blunders at Dunder Mifflin Inc. have turned The Office into a gold mine for the hit show’s producers. Employees of the fictitious business would strike it rich, too, if they ever thought to file suit over the wildly inappropriate actions they’ve been subjected to. Employment lawyer Julie Elgar estimates that Dunder Mifflin would have had to pay a whopping $6,635,000 last season if its workers had taken the company to court for everything they could have. A seventh-year associate at Ford & Harrison, an Atlanta-based employment law firm, Elgar writes a blog in which she tallies the potential litigation costs that would result from each episode of The Office. She bases many of her estimates on real-life jury awards in similar situations. Adapted from a British series of the same name, NBC’s version of The Office details the antics of the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of Dunder Mifflin, a “micro-cap regional paper and office supply distributor.” Most-but not all-of the misdeeds are committed by maladroit regional manager Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell). It was the show’s “Diversity Day” episode that first made Elgar think about how much Michael’s obliviousness could cost Dunder Mifflin. In that episode, a diversity consultant is deployed to Scranton to conduct sensitivity training after the corporate office receives complaints that Michael, who is white, has imitated a well-known and vulgar Chris Rock comedy routine about African Americans. Michael is not impressed by the sensitivity session, and on the document acknowledging that he’s received the training, he writes “Daffy Duck” instead of his own signature. After the consultant leaves, Michael holds his own informal diversity training in which employees play a game of racial charades by acting out ethnic stereotypes. “That’s when the question of how many zeros came up,” says Elgar. “My husband and I were falling over laughing, and he said, ‘If that really happened, how many zeros would there be on the check?’?” After raving about the show to her colleagues at Ford & Harrison, Elgar says, she was asked by the firm’s PR consultant whether she’d write a blog assessing the many human resources disasters in each episode. “We wanted something different that would communicate in a fun, lighthearted way using examples from pop culture,” says Elgar. The blog, which Elgar calls That’s What She Said, appears at www.hrheroblogs.com/thatswhatshesaid. The title refers to a pet phrase that Michael adds to other employees’ remarks that makes even the most innocuous comment “a little off-color-ish,” Elgar says. Since its debut last February, Elgar’s blog has become a minor hit of its own, receiving coverage from The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and CNN. Though she started the project to promote her firm’s practice, she says she hasn’t gotten any actual clients from the endeavor. But it’s developed a following among HR managers and lawyers, and people have e-mailed to ask her opinion about goings-on at their own company. Elgar acknowledges that The Office is over-the-top. None of her clients, for example, has had a manager ask a female employee to act out a lesbian relationship with a blow-up doll during training intended to prevent sexual harassment. (Michael did exactly that in one episode.) But the show abounds with teaching moments, according to Elgar. For example, the way that Michael botches the antiharassment session shows that “if you’re going to mock the training, it’s not something that you’re going to be able to use in defense of a lawsuit.” Elgar says that her own clients’ management problems are not nearly as dramatic as those on The Office. A common scenario might be someone making an “off-the-cuff comment that they don’t realize other people could perceive as offensive,” she explains. “What’s funny to some people might not be funny to someone else,” Elgar says. “I say to people, ‘If you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother in church, don’t say it at work.’?” In Elgar’s view, “You don’t want the workplace to get too staid, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.”

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