Each year, thousands of American businesses find themselves in the middle of litigation and public humiliation over alleged workplace misconduct. If your business is under attack by a disgruntled former employee, you need to be cautious. Too many companies fall for the trap, whereby they underestimate the toll a lengthy litigation will have on their operations, reputation, and financial resources. Instead of defending, or, worse, surrendering, to discrimination charges, prudent attorneys will advise you to pursue to a different route: investigate—and strike back.
Common Reasons Las Vegas Companies Get Sued on the Basis of Discrimination
Federal and state employment laws mandate that companies cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of numerous discriminatory factors, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status and age. Even though most companies are aware of anti-discrimination laws, companies still get sued for acts of discrimination – whether these acts are intentional or not. Employees are the heart of every company, but oftentimes employees can become disgruntled claiming they have been treated unfairly or improperly.
Discrimination lawsuits often are frivolous – just because an employee is unhappy with an aspect of their job does not give rise to a lawsuit. However, employees do have legal protection on their side when it comes to workplace discrimination and if the employee has the facts to substantiate discriminatory actions, a lawsuit will commence, leaving the company fighting to defend its reputation and financial stability. Though not exhaustive, a list of common reasons companies get sued for discrimination is listed below –
Gender Based Discrimination
- a company only promotes male employees
- a female employee is terminated because she is pregnant
- a female employee is sexually harassed in the workplace
- a company pays male employees more for the same work also performed by females
Race Based Discrimination
- company employees make inappropriate comments about another employee’s race
- an employer assumes an employee of a certain race cannot perform certain job duties
- a company does not hire an employee simply due to his or her race
Sexual Orientation Based Discrimination
- company employees make inappropriate comments about another employee’s sexual orientation
- a company takes an adverse action against an employee for his or her association with someone of a specific sexual orientation
- Only giving certain job duties to employees of a specific sexual orientation
Disability Based Discrimination
- an employer paying an employee with a disability less for the same job performed by other employees
- an employer or employee making jokes about another employee’s disability
Again, the above list is not exhaustive and discrimination in the workplace can take many forms, both overt and subtle. Companies need to take proactive measures to ensure their polices and procedures are up to date to ensure discrimination is not tolerated and those who engage in discrimination will be handled appropriately.
What an Effective Defense in a Discrimination Lawsuit Looks Like
If your company finds itself served with a discrimination lawsuit, certain proactive steps need to be taken to posture your company for the best chance of success First, contact an experienced attorney. Do not make the mistake of trying to handle a lawsuit on your own – this method could prove disastrous. An experienced attorney will be familiar with the procedural and substantive elements of a discrimination lawsuit.
Once you have engaged an attorney, this attorney needs to do a comprehensive internal investigation of your company. This internal investigation will uncover all relevant facts and issues surrounding the basis of the lawsuit. For example, this investigation will focus on the employee who is alleging discrimination and whether or not there is any merit to the allegations.
Evaluating the merit of the claims is based on a total review and analysis of the employee’s workplace history and the history of other employees’ interactions with that employee. Getting a complete picture of the genesis of the allegations will allow the attorney to develop an individualized strategy for how to handle the lawsuit. For example, if the internal investigation reveals that there is merit to the discrimination allegations, your attorney will take a different approach to resolution an opposed to if there is not merit to the allegations.
At this stage of the defense process, it is imperative to work as a team with your attorney. You attorney is only as good as the information given to him or her. Your attorney needs complete candidness from you – even if certain facts are not good. The best defense strategy can only be achieved if it includes all relevant information.
After the internal investigation has been completed, an effective defense strategy can be properly implemented. Based on the facts uncovered in the investigation, your discrimination defense attorney may recommend several options. For example, if the employee who alleged discrimination was an insubordinate individual, you can file a countersuit against the employee for theft, breach of contract, fraud etc. Often, disgruntled employees may think they are being reprimanded or terminated based on discrimination, but in reality, they are punished for workplace performance that is independent of any discriminatory element.
It is crucial that companies keep detailed written records concerning all employee behavior during the course of employment – not just in time of litigation. These records allow the company to justify its actions in how it treats employees in precarious situations. Relying on verified written data can help substantiate a countersuit against an employee who has filed suit.
As the lawsuit (and if applicable – countersuits) progress, a clearer picture of the facts and evidence surrounding the allegations come into focus. A good attorney will zealously prepare for your defense for trial, but also be open to possible a possible settlement if settling the matter is in the best interest of the company. Whether to take the case to trial or settle is unique to each case and requires an analysis of the totality of the circumstances once the litigation has progressed. Settling with a former employee may seem like giving up to some, but if the employee’s allegations have proven merit, resolving the matter via settlement often will save a company substantial money and protect its reputation in the long run.
Every Business Needs to Make a Choice: Surrender or Defend
When served with a discrimination lawsuit, companies need to make a choice – they either can cave into the allegations levied against them or vigorously defend their reputation. A vigorous defense does not mean taking the case to trial independent of the facts presented, it simply means the company and its attorney must engage in the litigation and take control it. Surrendering to the litigation means not investigating the underlying facts, not thinking of ways to countersue and not participating in the litigation process.
Your attorney should not just respond to the former employee’s court filings and motions – your attorney should be proactively filing motions on your behalf. Your attorney should timely notice depositions and proactively demand the former employee answer discovery. Engaging in the litigation process shows the former employee that your business will not simply acquiesce to his or her demands. Responding to the former employee’s lawsuit with a strong defense and showing him or her that you are not afraid to go to trial, can force an early dismissal of the lawsuit or encourage a positive settlement. Letting the litigation “run its course” can have severe consequences for your business – both financial and reputational.