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The Age of Retaliation


Protected activity or commercial opportunity? Weighing the difference in Sussex.

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It's the streaming giant's biggest documentary debut yet. Harry and Meghan racked up 81+ million viewing hours globally this week for which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are reportedly earning $100 million dollars from Netflix.

Over a quarter century ago, "An Interview with HRH The Princess of Wales," was watched on November 20, 1995 by nearly 23 million viewers in the UK, and 200+ million viewers worldwide. The BBC described the interview as “the most watched factual program in the nation’s history.”

While Princess Diana was coerced into that interview with Martin Bashir, who falsified documents to winkle a behind the scenes Kensington Palace exposé, the Sussexes appear to have turned the same message about security, media intrusions and mental health into a commercial opportunity.

At the crux of both tales lies a question: Which of our activities are protected — at work, in particular — and which of our behaviors are we responsible for? That is the question writ large being put to the House of Windsor.

Sussex Royal (.com)

After Prince Harry, now fifth in a line of succession to the British throne, married the bi-racial American actress Meghan Markle in 2018, they joined the senior members of the British royal family to serve then Queen Elizabeth II as head of state of the United Kingdom and 14 Commonwealth Realms. Markle willingly surrendered her “passport, driver’s license and keys” along with her social media, website, and religion to become an Anglican senior member of the royal family, an official representative of the British crown. “I am dedicated to this. I’m here for you. Use me as you’d like.”

It was a public relations coup for the royal family, too; offering relevancy to a monarch that represents 15 multicultural nations in the 21st century. But the fairytale, complete with a horse-drawn carriage ride and lavish wedding at Windsor Castle, soon unraveled amid relentless media attention driving the Duchess to clear minded thoughts of suicide. "I didn’t want to live anymore.”

When Harry asked for an assist in dealing with the British tabloids, and Meghan the palace H.R. department with her depression, both were told, “This is how it is. This is just how it is. We’ve all been through it.”

Following their escapades through Canada, the couple announced on Instagram they’d be stepping down as senior royals:

After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.

“So I want clarity,” Oprah asked, in Oprah, Meghan and Harry, a television special that drew nearly 44 million viewers worldwide in 2021. “Was the move about getting away from the UK press? Because the press, as you know, is everywhere. Or was the move because you weren’t getting enough support from The Firm?

Harry confirms, “Lack of support and lack of understanding.”

Princess Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, tweets the following day, "A winter's day so crisp, this morning's frost remains intact."

What is Retaliation?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, retaliation occurs when an employer — via a manager, supervisor, administrator or directly — terminates an employee, or takes any other type of adverse action against an employee for engaging in protected activity. Retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector and the most common discrimination finding in federal sector cases.

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission prohibits punishing job applicants or employees for asserting their rights to be free from employment discrimination including harassment. Asserting these rights is called "protected activity," and it can take many forms. According to the EEOC, it is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees:

For communicating with a supervisor or manager about employment discrimination; Answering questions during an employer investigation of alleged harassment; Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination; Resisting sexual advances; Intervening to protect others; Requesting accommodation of a disability.

Wild Justice

Described as “a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance,” Francis Bacon described revenge as a kind of "wild justice that offends the law, putteth the law out of office."

However, primitive justice or retributive justice is different from distributive justice and divine judgment. During the Middle Ages, from whence this royal house rose, nobody would regard an insult or injury as settled until it was either paid for or avenged. Weregild Payments — which placed a monetary value upon civil actions and behaviors — was the Anglo-Saxon's attempt to limit the spiral of revenge by codifying the responsibility of a malefactor.

During the Panorama interview, Diana called Charles' succession to the throne of England into question.

The top job, as I call it, would bring enormous limitations to him. I don't know whether he could adapt to that?

In the wake of that interview, Queen Elizabeth II wrote to the Prince and Princess of Wales instructing them to divorce. Diana received a lump sum settlement of £17 million, and a £400,000 per annum annuity for life. In exchange, she signed an NDA prohibiting her from discussing the divorce or any aspect of her married life. A weregild, if you like, for a 14+ year tenure with the British royal family.

While Harry and Meghan didn't receive a severance package for their 2+ years of service to the royal household, they are in fact collecting from their experience. In perhaps the most critical allegation to the royal family, Markle alleges a senior member of that family came to Harry while Markle was pregnant with “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he was born.”

Retributive Justice? Divine Judgement? Retaliation? The symbol for peace and justice are on opposite sides of the coin toss. We don't know where anyone stands 'til it lands.

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