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Don’t File That Lawsuit!

In 1983, I began my employment law practice, motivated to represent poor victimized employees and help them overthrow their dastardly, villainous bosses. I went all in. Worked 70-hour weeks, out to be the hero. At first, I took on basic cases like sexual harassment and discrimination, and by the end of my career, I was handling more sophisticated dramas like whistle-blower and glass ceiling cases. By the time I turned 30, I was divorced (Daddy wasn’t home enough), and by the time I was 40, I was burnt out of litigation. And I quit.

Over the ensuing 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to re-invent my career by being an entrepreneur, trainer, investigator and executive coach.

Given the experience set forth above, let me get to the title of this article. I now advise people who seek my advice that the preferred approach is to spend their time and energy focusing on finding the right place to work rather than spend another moment looking backward, trying to prove that you were “right” …about the wrong place to work. I have received far more gratifying thank-you notes from people who took the move-forward approach suggested.

Yes, you may have been violated. Wronged. Discriminated against. Bullied. Sabotaged. Did I miss anything? Because of that conduct, you now feel victimized, angry, resentful, revengeful, and determined to bring the dastardly villain(s) to justice!

But…not so fast. If you were my son, or sister, or father, or best-friend, here is the advice I ask you to consider:

1. Let go of the need to be “right.” You know the truth. Does it really matter if anyone else does? Instead, focus all your energy on moving forward and working in the right place, which may be for yourself.

2. If you are being accused of wrongdoing, and as a result, permanent damage can occur, you must defend yourself. Your reputation and livelihood. Even then, all-out war is a no-win scenario.

3. If it’s the other way around and you are accusing somebody of wrongdoing, do you turn the other cheek? Or do you forget those lessons and punish them or tarnish their reputation in return? The answer may be “yes” if it’s to prevent them from doing further damage. That does not mean you need to file a lawsuit. But it would be appropriate to “out” them.

There are rare circumstances where people have been seriously damaged, and it’s difficult to simply dust yourself off. You may need psychiatry sessions not paid for by your insurance. You may have a very niched job where it takes longer to be re-employed. If that’s the case, then work with an attorney to see if they can negotiate a severance, without you having to go through the litigation process. Often, a demand letter and meeting will suffice. Try to get a settlement that will help you move forward. Do not worry about getting a pound of flesh on top if it. And, think twice before you sue to get settlement leverage.

4. Unless you’ve been through the litigation process, you do not understand how crazy it gets. If you thought you were violated in the workplace, wait till those defense counsel get to you. You will not only be questioned by attorneys but perhaps their psychiatrist as well. And, you will wear out your friends and family listening to your story. They will tire of it far sooner than you.

On too many occasions, I have seen plaintiffs put their life on hold waiting for resolution from their lawsuit. They often lose years of career and personal growth in the process. Staying in your victim role is not in the least bit attractive or helpful.

Take into consideration how long these cases drag on for.  I often read appellate reports related to lawsuits filed more than five years ago. Do you want to find yourself dragged through the courts for the next five years? Do you like getting beat up by lawyers? Who ever benefits from that?

Another thing not publicized is that employees win, at the most, 60% of the cases that go to trial. There’s no publicity for the 40%+ of plaintiffs that lose at trial. This figure is consistent with EEOC claims filed, where half of them are dismissed as being without merit. Imagine spending all your time and energy wrapped up in a lawsuit for three years, only to lose in the end. You will be in worse position than the day you filed that lawsuit! In fact, the company (or their insurance company) may chase you down for their legal costs!

If by chance you get a big verdict, you can all but guarantee it will go on appeal for years. Either that or you must settle at a reduced amount. So, while the claimant may have received a $2.5 million jury verdict, an appeal was immediately filed which has been dragging itself through the courts for years, and now you find your attorney wanting to settle for $500,000. Since the case was tried, the attorney gets 40% of that for legal fees. Then there are appellate attorney costs, court costs, fees for experts, depositions and the inevitable IRS. In the end, the most you get to keep is about $200,000 …if you are lucky.

Then, like the vast majority of lottery winners, that money will gone within three years.

So was it worth it?

Trust me; this happens on a regular basis. There’s no press for it. Nobody is bragging about it.

Then there is the stark reality that most harassers and bigots and other people that cause these problems, are seldom punished. Not by the company or the media. There is little press for it. You are not in Hollywood or Silicon Valley and nobody cares about your story. Many of these people don’t even lose their jobs. Often, the company pays a small portion of any settlement you get because they have an insurance company to do that for them. So, while you feel you may be “teaching them a lesson,” it seldom turns out as hoped for.

I say let the bastards rot in their own miserable lives. In the end, they will pay the price. And it won’t be because you sued them.

5. Unless you like repeat scenarios, look for your responsibility in the situation. Were there early warning signs you ignored? Do you wish you had handled certain things differently? Can you see how you may have given people a wrong impression about you? What we can control is our own behavior. We must always examine if we were less than responsible to ourselves in the circumstances. So we don’t do it again.

Growth does not come from finger-pointing but rather awareness. If you have challenges “moving forward,” then hire a coach to support you. Somebody like me can get you back on track. Yes, coaches cost money but you are thinking about your long-term growth. I can tell you this: you’ll pay far less for your coach than for your failures.

That’s 30 plus years of employment law wisdom right there. If you like destructive dramas then, by all means… file that lawsuit!