Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Why You Probably Aren't Getting A $186 Million Check If You Sue Your Former Employer

If you're contemplating bringing a discrimination case against your former employer, you've probably been scouring the Internet for information. You also probably found the recent case where an employee who was the victim of pregnancy discrimination won a $186 million verdict against her employer. You may be seeing dollar signs. Surely your case is worth at least that much.

Or not.

Let's do a reality check. Here are just some of the many reasons why you probably aren't going to end up with a $186 million check from your former employer if you sue:

  • Your bosses didn't conspire to fire all the women: While the case had a single plaintiff, the evidence included testimony of a conspiracy to fire all the women. An interesting quote from the story about the case: "'Specifically, it was said to this district manager, women weren't worth a (expletive) to AutoZone. He was offered a promotion if he fired all the women at his stores,' said attorney Lawrence Bohm."
  • Your company probably didn't celebrate not having to promote women anymore: Another interesting part of this story is that the company had been under a settlement agreement that had just expired. "During the trial, her lawyers called a former district manager – an ordained minister – who described a meeting with high-level executives rejoicing over the expiration of a previous settlement agreement requiring AutoZone to promote women and track it."
  • There's no way this employee is getting a $186 million check: Sure, the verdict is nice. But the judge can reduce the judgment, and likely will. Then there are appeals where all or part of the verdict can get reversed. Even if all goes well, the company could go bankrupt or be uncollectable. If she wants to avoid years of appeals, she might settle. And let's not forget what is likely a 40% or so attorney fee, costs, and taxes.
  • You probably don't want to be in court for 8 years: She was demoted in 2006 and then sued. She was fired in 2008. I don't know about you, but if she was unemployed or underemployed for 8 years, that's an extreme hardship. Do you have the will and the patience to go back and forth to depositions, hearings and a trial for 8 years? What about 2 - 3 years of appeals, or more? Do you have the ability to pay the costs of court reporters, mediators, and other costs for 8 years of legal proceedings? Most people would say no to all these questions. 
  • Your facts are different: Every case is different. The facts of your case are different from everyone else's facts. Your witnesses and evidence are different. You can't compare yourself to the sky-high verdict cases that get all the big publicity. Most discrimination plaintiffs simply don't get that kind of money. 
  • You could lose: How risk-averse are you? Because nobody can guarantee what a judge or jury will do. You could get zero, or even end up paying the other side's fees and/or costs.
  • It was California: Unless you live in California, you won't get a California jury. California is unique in the level of workplace protections it provides. Jurors there are used to having rights. In most states, you'll have jurors who are resigned to having few workplace rights.

Going through a lawsuit is long, drawn-out and expensive. If you're thinking about suing, you need to prepare yourself realistically for what to expect, how long it will take, and that you could end up with nothing. I know it's fun to dream about lotto-sized verdicts, but talk to an employee-side employment lawyer in your state about your case to get a real assessment of your chances.

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I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.