Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Perception, Not Reality, Drives Many Employee Lawsuits

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Perception, Not Reality, Drives Many Employee Lawsuits

Article excerpt

The hardest part about corporate layoffs is not telling employees their jobs have been eliminated. It's dealing with the aftermath, the loss of productivity and morale, and staving off potential lawsuits.

No matter how carefully and fairly a workforce reduction is planned and executed, there's always the danger that some employees or groups of employees perceive they were not treated fairly.

And, it's perception, not reality, that often leads to lawsuits, according to two Oklahoma City attorneys who specialize in employee law.

"Lawsuits of this type are emotionally charged, and emotion is what drives these suits," attorney Laura Haag McConnell told a Tuesday meeting of the Oklahoma Manufacturing Resource Network.

"It sounds simple enough to pick a particular category of employees, say the top 25 percent wage earners in all jobs, as the target for a reduction in force. Most people, though, seldom stop to consider usually the top wage earners are the ones that have been with the company longest and usually, but not always, are over 40.

"These people are protected (against discrimination) by federal law."

Sometimes people over 40 become the butt of good-humored jokes to which no one objects. But in the case of firing the top wage-earners, such jokes -- especially if written in memo form -- can come back to haunt executives.

"I've seen lawsuits turn over internal memos where someone joked about the `old geezer network' or calling someone old," she said. "I strongly advise against something like this, especially in the form of memos, because they will haunt you if a suit is filed."

Not only are people over 40 protected against discrimination in hiring, employment practices and firing, but there are other large groups also protected under some federal law or another.

"Corporate downsizing, or reductions in force, are not anything new; they have been around a long time. In the past, companies just did them and nobody thought anything about it," she said.

"The Civil Rights Act and amendments to it, prohibit discrimination based on age, sex, race, religion, pregnancy and national origin. But until the early 1990s, there was not enough remedy to help those who were impacted -- the litigation attorneys were not interested. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.