As an employment lawyer, I've often been mystified and troubled by the enduring appeal of TV's hit series "Mad Men."

The show, taking place in the early 1960s, deals with a number of important social issues as it affects the characters. It accurately depicts a white-collar workplace at a time when a variety of personal habits and behaviors, now illegal, were celebrated or tolerated.

Females in those days -- as among the show's characters -- were in subservient roles, with little chance to be career equals to men. Minorities were few. Homosexuals were closeted, because to be out would have been a career-killer. Sexual harassment was blatant, common and without serious punishment. Smoking and drinking on the job were frequent.

One observer has said that the show's success is based on giving "viewers an alluring package that contains some not-so-pleasant material."

Not so pleasant? Most of it is illegal today.

Much of the critical commentary about the show focuses on the "alluring package" part, rather than the difficult social issues that dominated the latter half of the '60s and beyond. The look of "Mad Men" is often lauded, its costumes and sets, the appealing actors and actresses, the personal story lines that draw viewers in.

Here are a few recent article titles in Allure magazine: "Forget Mad Men's Plot ... Let's Talk About That Eye Makeup" and "Este Lauder to Launch Mad Men-Inspired Makeup." From Cosmopolitan: "Life Lessons to Lift from Mad Men."

Disturbingly, the "Man Men" mania goes beyond mere surface appeal. A number of sources of management advice have actually celebrated the show. Forbes published an article: "Lessons From 'Mad Men': Sales Tips From Don Draper."

CareerBuilder, a website devoted to finding jobs online, hosts a blog called "The Work Buzz," which gave career advice based on the show: "What can 'Mad Men' teach us about the 2012 workplace?"

Looking to this show for positive management advice is foolhardy, to say the least, in today's workplace.

The workplace has changed, and a number of laws have passed since the "Mad Men" era that make most its workplace behavior illegal. Here are some important ones:

• Equal Pay Act (1963): Aimed at abolishing unequal pay for equal work based on gender.

• Civil Rights Act (1964): The centerpiece of laws outlawing discrimination in the workplace based on race or gender.

 •Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967): Prohibits discrimination based on age, of those 40 years old or older.

The Clean Indoor Act: Twenty-seven states have one, and Minnesota's was passed in 1975.

• Americans with Disabilities Act (1990): Seeks to outlaw employment discrimination based on disabilities.

• Family Medical Leave Act (1993): Allows employees to take time off for serious medical issues for themselves or close family members, and be able to return to their same jobs.

• Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (2009): Establishes that each gender-unequal paycheck is a new violation of the law.

Currently there is no federal antidiscrimination law regarding sexual orientation. But, Minnesota's Human Rights Act has made such discrimination illegal here since 1993.

Dressing like Don Draper or Joan Holloway is one thing, but there is nothing acceptable about their workplace today. If you're looking for career or management advice in the 21st century, "Mad Men" is an object lesson in the negative.


Phillip J. Trobaugh is a Minneapolis attorney.