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Disturbing trend: Workers as their own lawyers

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

The recession and stubbornly high unemployment have pushed employment lawsuits to an all-time high in the past three years.

If your former employees decide to sue, they’ll find themselves competing for lawyers to represent them. Many won’t find help, because attorneys are being more 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 such pro se plaintiffs 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 earn 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 by saying women don’t belong in supervisory roles because, after all, “it’s called management for a reason.”

The problem: Maisonet’s EEOC complaint didn’t specify that she was charging her employer with failure to promote.

After she got legal help at a law school clinic, the students added the failure-to-promote claim. But her employer asked the court to toss out the case 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. But in this case, the judge let it slide.

He reasoned that the employer should have understood Maisonet was blaming discrimination for her failure to be promoted when she began performing her new job duties. The court also said she couldn’t be expected to understand the details of the law. (Maisonet v. Duraco, No. 09-CV-6320, ND IL, 2010)

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