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?”