Know when to fold ‘em: Sometimes, settling lawsuit is wisest move

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Supervisors sometimes say the darnedest things. Even bosses who’ve been taught that one word can trigger a harassment or discrimination lawsuit can put their foot firmly in their mouths.

It may be entirely innocent—they simply don’t realize the impact of their words. But the damage is already done.

If that’s the case and an employee starts the legal wheels in motion, it’s usually best to settle the case and move on. If it sounds bad to you, it’ll sound even worse to a jury.

Recent case: U.S. Postal Service employee Bonnie Kennedy requested a transfer back to North Carolina from New York as she neared retirement. But Kennedy said her prospective boss in North Carolina told her he “had no need for someone nearing retirement age … and that my age and seniority made me a short-timer.”

Kennedy, of course, threatened an Age Discrimination in Employment Act lawsuit.

Seeing how the case would play out, the Postal Service shifted into settlement mode. It offered to transfer Kennedy if she’d drop the claim. She accepted.

Later, when Kennedy lost her job over alleged performance issues, she tried to revive her earlier age-bias suit. But the court refused, saying the terms of the settlement effectively killed her claim. (Kennedy v. Potter, No. 3:06-CV-447, WD NC, 2008)

Tell bosses to accept the settlement without comment

In some cases like this one, employees who agree to legal settlements stay in their same jobs. If that’s the case, warn the employee’s supervisor to resist the temptation to show anger or resentment to the worker.

Attorneys for employees often tell their clients to be on the lookout for retaliation. And even one comment can mean large legal bills.

Example: Prison worker Steve Mack filed an EEOC complaint, and the employer settled for $10,000. Soon after, Mack was repeatedly turned down for promotion bids. He suspected that was because of his earlier EEOC settlement—especially since his boss told Mack that he didn’t like him because the settlement had come out of the boss’s budget.

Mack sued, alleging retaliation for his EEOC claim. The court sided with Mack, saying there was enough evidence to warrant a jury trial. (Mack v. Mukasey, No. 06-CV-00350, D.C. CO)

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