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Respond right away to avoid costly judgments

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Train everyone in your organization who might receive legal documents—from the mailroom clerk to the front-desk receptionist—to pass them on to management ASAP. Misplaced pleadings can mean an easy win for the person suing.

What’s worse, if you miss important deadlines, you’ll lose any chance you might have had to get the case tossed out. Those deadlines can be very short, and not responding can be disastrous for the bottom line.

Here’s why: An employer that doesn’t answer a legal pleading may end up with a default judgment against it. Then it will never get a chance to contest what the employee alleged—and will have to pay whatever the court orders as compensation. Often, that figure is exactly what the employee demanded in his lawsuit.

Recent case: Herman Price, who is black, sued his former employer for race discrimination after he was fired. Price alleged in his lawsuit that he had been fired to allow a junior (and white) employee to step into his job. Price said he was set up for discharge when he took two days off. He said he wasn’t scheduled for those days, but the former employer said he had been told to work. He asked for $43,800 in lost wages, plus $15,000 for his mental pain and suffering.

His former employer never bothered answering the legal complaint, and Price got a default judgment. He showed the court his earnings history, explained his pain and suffering and got a court order for the money he claimed he was owed because of the alleged race discrimination. (Price v. Greenman Technologies, No. 5:05-CV-471, MD GA, 2007)

Final note: Lawsuits often start with personal service—a deputy sheriff or professional process server will walk into your place of business and drop the paperwork on the first desk where he or she encounters an adult sitting. 

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