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Don’t let pettiness fuel years of litigation

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Here’s an important lesson to impart to supervisors and managers: Petty fights and anger over perceived injustices that lead to resignations or termination may spur multiyear litigation and cost hundreds of thousands in legal fees, lost time and damage awards.

HR professionals should play a role in making sure everyone steps back from the brink. Insist that discipline be based strictly on performance and not perceptions of loyalty, for example.

Recent case: Ha worked for many years as a clerk in various Jefferson County offices headed by elected officials. In the aftermath of one election, she became involved in an investigation into whether a candidate threatened to fire staff perceived as disloyal.

After she cooperated, she claimed that various officials retaliated against her and eventually persuaded her to take a job in a different office. That job meant a pay cut, resulting in potentially lower retirement benefits. Eventually, after another shift in leadership following another election, Ha lost her job.

She sued. It took over six years for the case to go to a jury trial.

Ha described several incidents in which she had been told her job was in jeopardy for alleged poor performance. She also claimed that she was subjected for scrutiny for offenses like using a county envelope to send a personal letter.

The jury heard hours of testimony from former employees and officials, considered whether Ha was an at-will or protected employee. It wrestled with dozens of legal theories about free speech and retaliation.

Finally, it concluded that the county owed Ha over $620,000 in damages and interest. (Jefferson County v. Nguyen, No. 09-13-00505, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2015)

Final note: Don’t let personalities dictate how to manage the workforce. Best bet: Have your attorney intervene if management won’t listen.

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