Take every suit seriously–even those in which employee is acting as her own lawyer

Smart employers never ignore lawsuit filings—even if the allegations sound ridiculous and they’re coming from someone who is acting as her own lawyer.

Recent case: Wackenhut Security fired Teresa Alexander, who is black. She was apparently unable to find an attorney to take her sex- and race-discrimination case, so she decided to represent herself and filed her own lawsuit.

Her allegations sounded outlandish and Wackenhut asked the court to deny her a hearing because her charges were frivolous.

But the court noted that Alexan­der claimed she had been fired after en­­during comments about black people taking advantage of welfare benefits paid for by taxpaying whites. In addition, she told the court that she had really been fired for complaining about the comments, and that a supervisor had informed others she had been fired “for prostitution.”

The court said her allegations, if proven true, were not frivolous. It allowed Alexander’s lawsuit to pro­­ceed. (Alexander v. Wackenhut Secu­­r­­i­ty, No. 3:11-CV-365, WD NC, 2011)

Final notes: Do you have a foolproof system for responding to lawsuits—even those that aren’t typed and don’t look official? If not, set one up.

Make sure everyone knows they must immediately forward to HR any­­thing that looks like a legal demand. Then you must pass it along to your attorney. The sooner an attorney re­­views the case, the sooner it can be dismissed.

But ignoring it won’t make it go away. In fact, you could automatically lose by not answering the complaint on time.