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Outrageous claims? Let legal process play out

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Employees and their lawyers can make some outrageous allegations in lawsuits. It may be part of an effort to get publicity, or maybe it just re­­flects the employee’s subjective per­­ception of what happened instead of objective reality.

Either way, don’t panic if you’re faced with a complaint full of lies. Chances are, the case will be tossed out when the judge sees there’s no substance to the allegations.

Recent case: Elsie Crowell was age 69 when she stopped coming to work at the Walmart where she had worked since 1996. Then she sued, alleging that the retailer discriminated against older workers.

Her lawsuit featured a long list of complaints, including allegations that older cashiers were assigned to stations that required heavy lifting and that younger employees were allowed more leeway on attendance and dress code problems than older workers received.

But Walmart argued Crowell could offer no evidence to back up her claims, even after discovery. She admitted as much under oath and the court tossed out her case. (Crowell v. Wal-Mart, No. 10-Civ-01116, SD NY, 2012)

Final note: There’s a fine line between a frivolous complaint and one that simply doesn’t pan out. In our legal system, plaintiffs are allowed to make allegations they believe are true with the understanding that some of the “evidence” will be dug up during the discovery phase.

But when digging through the defendant’s documents yields nothing, it’s time for the case to be dismissed. If it turns out that the allegations had absolutely no reasonable, factual basis, the defendant can petition to have the plaintiff reimburse legal fees. Discuss this with your attorneys. Judges are typically reluctant to order such costs, but will do so in clearly frivolous cases.

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