Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Friday, July 25, 2008

MDV's Not on Vacation - Connecticut Newspaper Organization Takes a Hit

Maybe it's the dog days of summer, but something certainly got under a Connecticut federal jury's skin as reported by the Connecticut Post, Journal Register loses $4m lawsuit .

It was a manager at the call center for the parent company of the New Haven paper who was the plaintiff. Her claim -- the always dangerous, retaliation, although this one had an unusual twist.

The parent company of the New Haven Register said it fired Terri Tucker, a manager at its telemarketing center, for misusing an office telephone on which collect calls were accepted. Tucker claimed it was really because she had been scheduled to be the company's primary witness in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by another female employee. However, after Tucker observed the accused male employee make "sexually lewd gestures and make sexual comments to others" she told her supervisors and apparently would no longer testify. When she was terminated, Tucker filed her own suit.

Any court case that makes it to trial almost always has a complicated story, but this one involving additional litigation sounds like it has more complexity than most. Apparently the initial sexual harassment case was settled.

It is a good lesson for employers and their lawyers about the dangers that can arise in defending one lawsuit. Some additional points from the short story:

  • According to Tucker's attorney, Jeffrey Bagnell, "I'm going to be seeking legal fees which, after three and a half years, will be substantial." Probably an understatement.
  • According to the story, the employer is "financially-strapped."

Since as expected the company will appeal, and depending on how financially strapped the company is there is always the possibility that a large judgment might be the tipping point to bankruptcy, and because of course, at this point it is merely a verdict, not a judgment, absent a settlement there is apt to be a long time between the return of this week's verdict and any spending of the money by Ms. Tucker.

Still, it is not likely to make for an enjoyable remainder of the summer for those charged with defending the employer.


In all likelihood the company has insurance, so the last refuge of scoundrels (including corporations), bankruptcy, will not be an issue.

It's funny that whenever a corporation loses a case like this, there is talk about spending the money, as if the jury's verdict was unrelated to the company's illegal conduct and the long unremedied harm it caused the employee. Overlooks that this company most likely decimated the plaintiff's finances by firing her, and most likely forced her to go without any money for years.

Some more objectively would make this a better post. And, the dog days of summer are in August, not July.
Thanks for the comment. The point about the impact on the employee is well taken. However, since as the title of the blog indicates, I write from an employer's lawyer viewpoint, I focus more on how matters are viewed from the employers side. That doesn't mean to say in this case or any other, that there may not also be substantial impact on individuals by the actions of employers. My experience is that most employers understand that.

Also just a small point, like you I had remembered dog days of August as a phrase, so I looked it up before my initial post. Here's how wikipedia defines it: The phrase Dog Days or "the dog days of summer", refers to the hottest, most sultry days of summer. They are a phenomenon of the northern hemisphere that usually falls between early July and early September but the actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate. Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress.

Thanks again for reading the blog and commenting.

Michael Fox
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