Legal Considerations for Gaslighting

Cab Franc.jpgCabernet Franc

“Search your feelings, Cabernet Sauvignon. You know it to be true. I AM your father.”

And thus went the conversation between the most powerful wine grape in the universe and the sinister force that seemed diametrically opposed to it. Cab Franc hails, as you would guess by the name, from France, but from the Basque region. Melded with Sauvignon Blanc, it created the wine we started our walk with. Daddy issues? Not really. In the Bordeaux region, 25% of the grapes pressed are Cabernet Sauvignon, while 12% are Cab Franc. Merlot rules the region with 62%. I’ll let you go back to watch Sideways and let that sink in. In California, 30% are Cab Sauvignon while 1.18% are Cab Franc. (USDA) If you’re overlooking this varietal, more is your loss as it dresses up or dresses down with everything from burgers to pork belly to curry. 

In previous posts, we’ve looked at Gaslighting from the point of view of the victim and the perpetrator. The next question is, is it illegal? As we know from Griggs v Duke Energy, disparate impact against a protected class is illegal, as is disparate treatment if the gaslighting can be proven. However, that leaves a lot of unprotected ground.

Bullying, specifically, isn’t illegal unless it meets the definition of harassment and the correlation between gaslighting and bullying should be self-evident. Harassment is defined as an “act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or group, including threats and demands.” Further, “the purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill, or to merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone fearful or anxious…A systematic pattern of harassment by an employee against another worker may subject the employer to a lawsuit for failure to protect the worker.” Clearly, there is cause for a claim when gaslighting occurs.

Harassment becomes unlawful when[1]:

  • Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or
  • The conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.

The first step in making a claim is to relive the past. Revisit those moments where the lie started and take in the context. Did the perpetrator act out of guilt, insecurity, or as an emotional reaction to a vulnerable situation? Recognizing when the tactic was previously employed will be beneficial in preventing it from happening in the future.

When you suspect gaslighting occurs, make a note of it—mental at first, but then actually document the incident. What led up to the “gaslit” interaction? What was your emotional state at the time? What of the perpetrator’s emotional state? What was said? What is your “truth?”

Slow down and take control of the pace of events. The gaslighter will try to keep you off-balance by demanding a snap-decision or steering you towards a single conclusion by a stream of logical fallacies. “Clearly you came in here to talk to me about this project because you wanted my opinion, which means you don’t have the conviction to back up your own, so it’s obviously best that you defer any decisions regarding this or any future projects to me in the future. I’m glad we had this talk.”

Take care to keep your emotions in check. You may be angry, you may start shaking uncontrollably, you may want to cry or run away from the situation. Gaslighters feed off emotion, using it against you to sway perception in their favor. “You were clearly too upset to think.”

Seek legal counsel. An attorney can provide guidance as to how to pursue remedy. The attorney can best guide you in what and how to document.

Finally, seek professional help. Meet with a licenses psychiatrist or psychologist and begin the road to healing.

[1] EEOC

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