Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Staffing Firm Controller Scores Manhattan MDV


A company whose business is helping other companies find employees, also has its own, and with them the risk of employment litigation. One staffing company is keenly aware of that this morning as the N.Y. Daily News story, Exec wins 1.2M race, sex harass suit, makes abundantly clear.

Even worse than losing the verdict may be what happens on the first day of next year. According to the article:
Sydney Nurse, 43, isn't quitting her $100,000-a-year controller's job at the midtown employment firm, Concepts in Staffing. On Jan. 2, she'll be back running the accounting department. "She's going back to work because she should not have to give up her job because of racism," said Nurse's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson.
Ouch.

If the evidence quoted in the paper is reflective of the plaintiff's case, it's clear that they got to use one of a plaintiff employee's best arguments -- the arrogance of the employer. When Nurse suggested to the owner of the company that harassing comments might violate the law he was alleged to have said:
"I am the law. I'm Artie A. This is my company and I can do whatever I want."

According to the company's counsel, rather than discriminating, the owner of the company had a lengthy track record of promoting people of color. Pretty clear which way this particular jury viewed the two approaches.

A press release from Nurse's lawyer made even more explicit allegations about the testimony that was presented at trial, saying it included:

  • Ms. Nurse being repeatedly called "Black B****" in the workplace
  • Ms. Nurse being repeatedly groped, including the CEO grabbing her breast and pinning her against his desk while pressing his pelvic area against her backside.
  • An employee rubbing paperwork on his pelvic area before handing it to Ms. Nurse while seated at her desk and then pumping his pelvic area within inches of her face.
  • Another employee unzipping his pants and telling Ms. Nurse to "kiss this," while pointing to his pelvic area.
  • The CEO making racially discriminatory remarks, including statements that he "did not want any blacks or Hispanics pictured on his company's website" and that he wanted a newly hired employee of color to be seated "in the back of the bus in the black and Hispanic section of the office".
  • When told by employees that his comments and actions violated the law, the CEO openly told his employees, "F*** the law. I am the law."

Of course that's just one side of it and you can be sure that the employer thought going in that it had a strong chance that it either was not believable or that it had something to counter act it. And of course the employer may very well have the best of it, because there is a long way between a verdict and money in the pocket of the plaintiff.

Still, at least for me, it re-enforces two points:

  1. when you have volatile evidence, if you lose, it's likely to be big; and
  2. don't try employment law cases around Christmas.

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