Sunday, July 27, 2014

What's It Like To Be Sued For Discrimination?

We are all human beings.  Well not really.  Technically, while corporations may be legally considered "people"with the benefit of first amendment rights, those of us not on the Supreme Court know that corporations are fictitious concoctions invented by people to avoid real people having personal liability.

But, corporations are formed by real people.  And when a corporation is sued by a current or former employee for discrimination, real people are affected by the lawsuit.  It is hard to be accused of discrimination.  It is hard to be accused of discrimination even when the allegations are true.  Most people do not want to believe that they sexually harass employees.  Most people nowadays claim they are not racist, even if they  tell racist jokes or believe that there are "some good ones" and some who "are not so good."  Even where a manager grabs an employee's rear, he thinks it's either just a joke, or she liked it.

But, we all know that many, if not most, of those accused of discrimination do not believe that he or she has discriminated against anyone.  Sometimes they have not.  Not all plaintiffs are truthful. Not all plaintiffs have the same sensibilities as the rest of us.  I remember the time a woman sought my representation, claiming that she had been sexually harassed because her boss told her she looked nice, and "they are not allowed to do that, are they?"  Discrimination may be subjective.  Growing up in the 1960's I remember what names African-Americans were called by some white people, who probably truly believe that they were not racist.

So what is a defendant to do?  I do not mean to make light of the dilemma of the defendant in a discrimination lawsuit.  Actually, my old law firm was sued for sexual harassment when I was a partner so I have been a defendant in a lawsuit.  It is hard to be a defendant.

Employment discrimination laws had little bite until 1991 when Congress first allowed plaintiffs to have jury trials and provide for the recovery of emotional distress damages and punitive damages.  Things were different in American workplaces before the 1990's.  This spate of discrimination cases in our country is relatively new, even though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.  In the 1960's, some white people did not mind admitting they were racist, but now it is not popular to be racist, a good by-product of the Civil Rights Movement, even if there are more racists who deny being racist than before.

I guess my point, that I am stating inarticulately, is that it is hard to be sued.  Most people who are sued become angry, become defensive, and are truly hurt by being accused of discrimination.  CEO's, managers, HR professionals, and other human beings oftentimes do not like being accused of wrongdoing regardless of what might have happened.  When a company is accused of discrimination, managers can have a variety of reactions.  Some high level managers want to make their companies better and address problems, if there have been any.  Some employers are personally offended and will fight no matter what the facts show.  People are different and companies have different responses, just as people do.

I guess my point is that we are all humans.  We all have different experiences in life.  We all have learned different life lessons.  Some of us cannot tolerate being criticized, whether plaintiff or defendant.  Some of us want to learn from our experiences and become better people.  Some of us have self images that are fragile and cannot tolerate criticism, whether plaintiff or defendant.  We are all people.  Hopefully, thanks to the Civil Rights Movement and the rights and responsibilities that we have in this country, we can all learn and grow and become a better society.


  1. To talk about the psychological experience of a person being sued, I would say kudos in describing the person who is guilty of discrimination and how difficult a road they travel when called on to stand and defend why they said or did what they did. I have no doubt that the victim of this person or company does not care one iota and rightly so, I also say that this is not just a black issue or that civil rights is exclusive to just the black community, it is not and everything in this article is at best misleading in a way that makes you think it is.

    Civil rights are personal rights guaranteed and protected by the U.S. Constitution and federal laws enacted by Congress, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Civil rights include, for example:
    • freedom of speech,
    • the right to vote,
    • due process of law,
    • equal protection of the laws, and
    • protection from unlawful discrimination.

Criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy are almost always permitted. 

    Its been written into law that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

    as far as KCMO is concerned you do not want to exercise your so called civil rights with this organization (not government entity, they do not act in the manner of a government entity) As a minority, I have been a victim of racism by the city, by philip yelder, sheila williams and their ilk so when I hear about the city being sued I am at the very least not surprised at all, the city acts with impunity and believes that there is no consequence for their actions that the legal department will not resolve with either money or long term legal action in court.

  2. Another good post from Lynne!
    Isn't it true that most disagreements which lead to legal proceedings are due to a lack of communication?
    While I don't think there's ever an excuse to physically touch another person in the workplace in a sexual manner, both employers and employees should know the expected code of conduct from the time of hire. Violate the company policies, and you're fired.