It happened again, last week. An employer was sued.
Wait, what’s that? A new lawsuit gets filed EVERY day against employers? (Actually, in federal court, at least 11885 employment lawsuits were filed in 2017. Far more than one a day.)
But last week, there were a bunch of headlines – a new sexual harassment lawsuit filed against a major Connecticut employer.
(I’m not going to mention it here for reasons that will become apparent in a second).
News organizations ate the new lawsuit up picking up scurrilous allegations that were even denied by some of the people involved.
This, of course, isn’t the first time that this happened — that is, news organizations publishing the fact that a lawsuit was filed.
Why? Is it really news?
Reporters would say yes, the public has a right to know. And in fairness to them, a new lawsuit may have some newsworthiness.
But I’d argue that many reports about lawsuits get published for far simpler reasons — they’re easy to write about. The facts are laid out in a complaint; all that’s really needed is a few quotes and a response from the employers and the story writes itself.
Typically, the news stories aren’t even written on the fly; a lawyer may “tip off” the reporter that the lawsuit is coming and offer “exclusive” interview to the reporter that coincides with the lawsuit.
At that point, the employer is left to say that it doesn’t comment on pending legal matters or that it’s still “investigating” the claims.
And even when the employer files its motion to dismiss, or answer, or actual responsive pleading, the press has long since moved on.
Employers must recognize this and be prepared to either respond to the press quickly, or figure out your plan ahead of time.
Communications expert Andrea Obston goes one step further and notes that with social media, your company’s story is being told — so you might as well get involved in the conversation.
In today’s on-line world, it’s easy for anyone to tell your story. Don’t let them. Tell it yourself. Tell it authentically and tell it often. If you don’t, expect someone else to do it for you – whether you like it or not.
Employment lawsuits are easy news. You should understand that by now. Knowing what to do next may at least position your company as something different than just today’s punching bag.
Employment lawsuits can be more than just legal matters nowadays; the pressure of the online world can be huge. Understanding the stakes now in play are important for employers to understand as they defend against such lawsuits.