Witness to Nanny Abuse: Responding to a Bully

If you saw a nanny being mistreated, would you speak up or look the other way?

ByABC News
January 29, 2009, 3:19 PM

Jan. 30, 2009— -- Have you ever worked for an unfair boss, or witnessed someone talking to their employee in a way that made you uncomfortable, angry or scared?

You are not alone. A survey taken by Domestic Workers United found that almost half of working Americans have suffered or witnessed workplace bullying.

Watch the story on ABC's "What Would You Do?" on Tuesday, Feb. 3, at 10 p.m. ET.

ABC's "What Would You Do?" decided to find out how people would react when they saw a nanny mistreated by an abusive employer. "What Would You Do" set up hidden cameras at a popular neighborhood coffee shop, Ozzie's Coffee, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. In the midst of the latte rush hour, a nanny walked in with a little girl to meet up with the girl's mother.

There was nothing out of the ordinary here, except that the three actors had been hired by ABC as part of a social experiment about abuse of power. After a friendly greeting it became clear that mom wasn't happy with the help.

Our actor playing the tyrant mother noticed a stain on the little girls' shirt. The nanny tells her it was an accident. But the actor portraying the girl's mother wasn't buying it.

"I don't pay you to have her look like this, do I, do I? You know what, I don't want to hear any more excuses from you, you're useless, and a moron. I'm so mad right now I can freaking hit you," she said.

All of this was within earshot of a room full of unsuspecting regulars.

What makes this scenario particularly disturbing is that we spoke with nannies around the country who said that this type of treatment is not uncommon and in fact somewhat routine for nannies at the lower end of the pay scale.

Erline Browne has worked as a nanny for more than 15 years and served as a consultant during our shoot. She argued that there is wholesale disrespect for the profession.

"It's looked at, that you're doing this because you can't do anything else. If you could do real work, then you'd be out there doing real work. You're doing this because you're uneducated, you're useless," she told ABC.

Browne has interviewed hundreds of working nannies as a member of Domestic Workers United, a group in New York State that works to establish fair labor standards for domestic workers.