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Simple culture of civility and respect can wind up saving sky-high legal fees

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Want to avoid needless and ex­­pensive lawsuits? One good place to start is by encouraging respect and civility. That’s because sometimes hurt feelings are enough to spur a lawsuit.

Of course, such cases are often dismissed—but only after you have spent time and money mounting a defense.

Recent case: Osmond Brown, who is a black man of Jamaican national origin, took a job as a cleaner after attending a job fair. His prospective boss reportedly told Brown that he was “just the man we are looking for.”

At first, things went well. Then Brown’s supervisor began walking up and grabbing him from behind, which Brown didn’t like. The supervisor also allegedly said he didn’t like Jamaicans.

Later, the same supervisor got into an argument with Brown, claiming Brown was cleaning too slowly. The supervisor informed the boss who had hired Brown, who in turn de­­cided to terminate Brown immediately.

Brown sued, alleging discrimination. He represented himself.

In testimony, he told the court that he “did not want to bring a lawsuit, because he liked the company and [the boss], but felt he needed to do something because his feelings were deeply hurt.”

The judge dismissed the case. (Brown v. Superior Contract Cleaners, No. 10-CV-6238, WD NY, 2011)

Final note: This seemingly inconsequential case wound up costing the employer a pretty penny in legal fees. Had the supervisor not horsed around or made ethnic comments, Brown probably wouldn’t have re­­sorted to litigation.

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