Employee's Lawsuit Accuses Employer of Torture

By: Gerri L. Elder

How far can an employer go to motivate employees? Certainly in a sluggish economy, companies have to do what they can to increase sales. Incentives are great tools to encourage salespeople to reach goals, but if sales are slow there may not be room in the budget for employee rewards. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that one company came up with some alternate ways to motivate workers, and is now being sued because of the unique techniques they allegedly used.

A former employee of a motivational coaching business in Provo, Utah has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the company, claiming that he was a victim of waterboarding at the hands of his supervisor. The man claims that the torture happened to him at work and in front of other employees under the guise of a training exercise. He alleges that the supervisor said that it was being done to demonstrate that the sales staff should work as hard to make sales as the employee who was being waterboarded was working to breathe.

Chad Hudgens filed the lawsuit against Prosper, Inc. in January alleging that in addition to the waterboarding at work, the managers of the company also allowed the supervisor to humiliate employees. Hudgens claims that the supervisor drew mustaches on employees' faces, took away their chairs and beat on their desks with a wooden paddle. These actions were apparently done in an effort to increase revenues for the company.

In his injury lawsuit, Hudgens describes how he was tortured at work by his supervisor, Joshua Christopherson. He says that last May, Christopherson asked for volunteers to participate in a new motivational exercise. Hudgens volunteered because he claims that he wanted to show his loyalty and determination. Christopherson then allegedly led the sales team outside to the top of a hill and instructed Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill. What Hudgens says happened next is nothing short of outrageous.

The lawsuit claims that after Hudgens was down on the ground, Christopherson directed the rest of the sales team to hold him down. After his arms and legs were immobilized, Christopherson allegedly produced a gallon jug of water and began pouring it over Hudgens' mouth and nostrils.

This technique is eerily similar to the interrogation strategy known as "waterboarding", which is widely viewed as torture.

As Hudgens struggled, Christopherson ordered his co-workers to continue to hold him down. When the water supply was exhausted, Christopherson allegedly told the group that he expected them to work as hard to make sales as Hudgens had worked to survive the waterboarding.

Dave Ellis, the president of Prosper, Inc. says that Hudgens is blowing things out of proportion for the purposes of his lawsuit and claims that employees of the company will not back up Hudgens' allegations.

Ellis says that Christopherson explained the training exercise before Hudgens agreed to participate and that he was not held down by his co-workers. According to Ellis, the waterboarding episode was simply a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. In the story, Socrates pushes the student's head underwater and tells him that he will learn only after his desire to learn is equal to his desire to breathe. Ellis also claims that Hudgens would have been able to stop participating in the training exercise if he became uncomfortable with it.

The injury lawyer representing Prosper in the lawsuit says that Hudgens did not complain about the waterboarding incident until six weeks after it allegedly happened. During those six weeks he enjoyed a water skiing retreat with the company. After the skiing trip, Hudgens filed his complaint and Christopherson was suspended for two weeks while Prosper investigated the allegations. After the investigation, Christopherson returned to work and is still employed by Prosper as a supervisor.

Hudgens says in his lawsuit that he left Prosper because after the waterboarding incident he suffered anxiety, depression and sleeplessness and has required therapy for emotional trauma. The lawsuit accuses that Christopherson and Prosper of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination. Hudgens also alleges that Christopherson interfered with his employment relationship with the company.

There does not seem to be any agreement between the two sides on the facts of the case, which will make this case interesting, yet difficult for the court to sort out.

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