From time to time, I have a conversation on this blog (titled “The Dialogue”) with Nina Pirrotti, a prominent labor & employment attorney representing employees in the New Haven area.

With all of us now working from home for the foreseeable future, Nina and I thought we’d bring back this recurring feature — with a

It’s been far too long since our last installment from March 2019, but my ongoing dialogue with Nina Pirrotti, a prominent plaintiff’s-side employment law attorney, is back. In this post, we talked about the highlights from 2019 with a sneak peek at 2020.  My thanks to Nina for her contributions. You can find her firm’s blog posts here as well.  

Dan:  Nina! Good to talk with you again here.  I hope you had a great Thanksgiving; mine was full of turkey, stuffing and even skiing.  But we have so much to talk about. It seems that 2019 has been a busy year in employment law which is kind of surprising because the economy keeps rolling on. I thought we’d look back on 2019 and look ahead to 2020.

From my perspective, it’s tough trying to recap 2019 in just one or two paragraphs. The most obviously trendline to me sees to be that the #metoo movement shows no signs of abating or of a backlash.  And for people like both you and me who care about social justice, this is a great thing. Real change to root out sexual harassment has been long overdue. We’re now going to see training mandated at basically all workplaces and other changes.  But will it be enough or will it stall out in 2020?

Paid FMLA is obviously another big topic but we’re really not going to see those changes until at least 2021.  What else stands out to you from this past year?

Nina: A warm hello to one of my favorite sparring partners.  It is so great to rekindle our feisty exchanges!

Well, Dan, as you may have guessed from the two articles I wrote for the Connecticut Law Tribune in October 2018 and mid-March 2019, the critical issues raised by the #MeToo movement continue to loom large for me this year.

While we have on rare (and much publicized) occasions, seen the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, (See e.g. “’Survivor’ Contestants Apologize After #Me Too” Backlash”), the movement has largely been a force for healthy, overdue change.
Continue Reading The Dialogue: A Busy Year in Employment Law in 2019 with a Look Ahead to 2020

The Dialogue — one of the more popular recurring posts — returns for the third time. Does that mean the third time’s the charm? Or is it three strikes and we’re out? In any event, Nina Pirrotti of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald and Pirrotti, P.C. returns for this installment where an employee-side and employer-side attorney discuss the issues of the day. Today’s topic discusses the lay of the land when an employee files a complaint against his or her current employer. Well, that and Unicorn Frappuccinos….

unicornsNina Pirrotti: It is that time, once again for the two of us to lock horns, I mean engage in a spirited discussion about, how we both help our clients to navigate thorny issues which arise in the workplace.    One such issue is how to advise our clients when an employee has alleged discrimination while she is still employed with the very employer she is accusing of wrongdoing.  Wow.  I feel a knot forming in my stomach just contemplating it!   

There are many complexities inherent in this scenario at each stage, from how the complaint is initially expressed, to the manner in which it is investigated, to whether the employee who complains should stay or go (or something in the middle like a leave of absence) to various resolution options.  In fact, I feel so strongly that employees and employers often botch one or more facets of this fraught situation  that I proposed it as a subject for a panel at NELA’s annual employment conference this June and I will be speaking on that panel!

I think I will start the ball rolling by saying that my biggest fear is that clients who remain working in a hostile work environment often feel so powerless and outraged by their situation that they are vulnerable to doing everything wrong from making more frequent mistakes to lashing out at supervisors or peers or far worse.   I used to save my admonishments about refraining from such behavior for my less sophisticated clients until it became clear that my C-Suite executive clients were just as likely to partake.   Now, no matter who my clients are, a big part of my counseling session revolves around how they should conduct themselves in the workplace.  If anything, I want them to strive even harder to be consummate professionals, above reproach.   My most common refrain is:  Do not arm your employer with a legitimate justification for terminating you!

There is so much to territory to explore here, Dan, but, could you highlight for me one or more of your biggest concerns when a client comes to you and says one of its employees has alleged discrimination or harassment in the workplace?

Dan Schwartz: Locking horns, eh? Perhaps you’ve had one too many Unicorn Frappuccinos (R.I.P.)  from Starbucks.  Alas, I do tend to agree with you that this is one area where rainbows and happy endings are rare.

When I hear about current employees who bring suit against their employers, I tend to think an apt comparison may be the spouse that files for divorce but the couple still has to live in the same house.  It’s awkward.  Everyone is walking on eggshells.

The fact is that one big concern I have for employers in this situation is to avoid a retaliation claim.  You say you encourage employees to be “above reproach” and I wish that were always the case, but sometimes employers will get these types of claims and they’re in the midst of either terminating or disciplining an employee — what then? If they do so after the claim, they’re opening themselves up to a retaliation claim. And we know how nasty those can be.  (Documentation is critical.)

But if it’s a harassment complaint that the employer gets, it typically becomes a real fire drill — drop everything and begin an investigation. That investigation may or may not need your client’s help, Nina. So what do you do in that situation where an investigation pops up?

Nina: Ok – you got me.  I couldn’t resist looking up the Unicorn Frappuccino on Google after my husband assured me you weren’t making it up.  This is how Starbucks describes it:  “Magical flavors start off sweet and fruity transforming to pleasantly sour. Swirl it to reveal a color-changing spectacle of purple and pink.”    It sounds like a liquid nightmare.  Hmmm could the Unicorn Frappucinno’s “magical flavors” be a metaphor for the very type of employer-employee relationships of which we are speaking?!
Continue Reading The Dialogue: Workplace Complaints and Happy Endings As Rare As Unicorn Frappuccinos?

From time to time, this blog features unedited interviews with people in the labor and employment arena who may be of interest to Connecticut employers.  Today, I’m very pleased to have Nina Pirrotti address a few questions for the blog.

Nina is an attorney with the lawfirm of Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Chimes, Richardson & Fitzgerald, P.C.