The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity (CHRO) was sued yesterday by its longtime (and former) Regional Manager Pekah Wallace. The federal lawsuit claims her employment termination was improper and provides a whole host of information about what has been going on behind the scenes at the agency.
In yesterday’s post, I talked about some of the reasons why an employee’s lawsuit against his or her employer was destined for failure.
But employers, I’m afraid you’re not off the hook that easily. This post is for any employer that just got sued or threatened with suit.
Maybe that lawsuit isn’t so frivolous after all.
Wait a second! You said yesterday that ‘Odds are, you probably weren’t discriminated against’!”
Ah, but isn’t that rub? Odds. Statistics. Yes, some (many?) lawsuits brought by employees are losing propositions. But some are not.
Here are some things I tell clients or prospective clients when I see a lawsuit filed or threatened as to why they should take the lawsuit seriously.
1. That frivolous lawsuit is still going to cost you thousands (if not tens of thousands) to defend. But I thought you said this post was about non-frivolous lawsuits? True. But for my first point, that’s beside the point entirely. Whether a lawsuit is frivolous or not, the system of justice through our courts and administrative agencies moves slowly and with some cautiousness. Even the frivolous ones need to be defended. Court filings need to be, well, filed. And court conferences need to be attended. So your first point always is to recognize that all employment law cases have a cost associated with them.
And as such, all cases have what we call a “nuisance” value as well. That is — you are going to spend X amount of dollars defending the lawsuit. It may be cheaper to just pay a certain amount to avoid the cost of defense. Now, there are business reasons why you won’t want to do so in all or even many cases, but the employer who fails to recognize the nuisance value of the case is destined to be disappointed in the long run.
It’s a bit of hyperbole to say that any person can sue anyone at any time for any reason. But not that much. Lawsuits are a part of doing business. Frivolous or not, you will still have spend money to defend your decision. Be prepared for this eventuality when making your employment decisions and deciding whether or not to offer severance in exchange for a release.
2. “At Will” Employment Is a Misnomer. In Connecticut, the default employment relationship between an employer and employee is “at-will”. As many offer letters suggest, that means either the employer or employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any reason or no reason at all. And so, I sometimes hear employers exclaiming “Connecticut is at-will! We should be able to just fire them for any reason! How can they still sue?”
The last few weeks it seems that I’ve been reading about sexual harassment in the workplace issues a lot more. Here are a few examples:
- Gretchen Carlson sues Fox News’ Roger Ailes.
- Suit Says Managing Partner Pressured Female Staff for Sex
- Sexual Harassment Still
Well, it was bound to happen. After nine years of writing the blog on a near daily schedule, some work and personal commitments interfered with my blog writing schedule. But never fear, more new posts from me are now right around the corner.
In the meantime, one of our summer associates, James Joyce, joins the …
Just a quick followup today on a post from last month.
As I reported then, a District Court judge dismissed a closely-watched EEOC lawsuit against CVS challenging a pretty standard severance agreement. But the grounds for the dismissal were unknown back then.
The wait is over; the written decision was released yesterday. For…
My good friend, Jon Hyman of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, probably said it best this morning:
I try to shy away from hyperbole, but OH MY GOD, THIS CASE COULD BE RUINOUS!!!
Yeah, pretty much.
So, if you — like me — have been…
Over the years, we’ve had a little fun on this blog, with friendly bets with other employment law attorneys, over everything from a sports event to, well, a sports event. The loser traditionally has to extol the virtues of the winning team on an employment law blog with some loose employment law tie-in.
The Hartford Courant and Fox CT last week released their list of “Top Workplaces” in the Greater Hartford area.
In a column accompanying it, columnist Dan Haar suggests the ingredients that go into a good place to work: Passion, Freedom & Direction. He states:
One common thread is a system that shows respect
Over the last week, two unrelated stories caught my eye. For employers, they are a reminder that claims of pay inequality based on gender are still something to be concerned about.
The first story is that Governor Malloy announced plans for a new study to examine “factors that contribute to the gender wage gap in Connecticut’s workforce.”
The study will be run by new Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer and Department of Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith. The Governor has asked the commissioners to make recommendations on the issue by October 2013.
I’ve talked about this issue before; there are some who believe that the wage gap is overstated. But the study will make headlines this year and this renewed focus in Connecticut on the issue should have employers revisiting their own practices.
The second story illustrates the claim in much more real world terms and shows the perils of trying to navigate your way through such claims.
In Morse v. Pratt & Whitney, decided last week, a federal court — among other issues — denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an Title VII unequal pay claim.