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Beware trend: Workers acting as own lawyers

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

With layoffs and other staff cutbacks continuing, the unemployment rate has been persistently stuck near 10%. If former employees decide to sue, they’ll find themselves competing for lawyers to represent them. Many won’t find help, because attorneys are being very selective about the cases they take, wanting to cherry-pick only the most likely winners.

You’d think that would mean less litigation. But the opposite is true. Increasingly, those former employees simply file their own lawsuits. And judges give them every possible break since they aren’t expected to know the tricks of the legal trade.

Recent case: Jacqueline Maisonet took over a male co-worker’s duties when he was promoted, but she didn’t get more money or his fancy title.

She filed an EEOC complaint in which she decried what she considered a poor workplace atmosphere. For example, she said one supervisor responded to her pay complaints with a snide comment indicating women don’t belong in supervisory roles because, after all, “it’s called management for a reason.”

Maisonet’s EEOC complaint didn’t specify that she was charging her employer with failure to promote. She got her right-to-sue letter and finally got legal help at a law school clinic. Law students added the promotion claim, but her employer asked the court to toss it out because she omitted it earlier.

Ordinarily, if an EEOC complaint doesn’t include a specific discrimination claim, the employee loses the right to bring that claim. In this case, the judge let it slide. He reasoned that her employer should have understood she was blaming discrimination for her failure to be promoted when she began performing her new job duties. It also said she couldn’t be expected to understand the law. (Maisonet v. Duraco, No. 09-CV-6320, ND IL, 2010)

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