Over the years, I have been involved in numerous lawsuits resulting from employment disputes, be they allegations relating to pregnancy discrimination, Title VII, ADA and FMLA. I have spoken and written that litigation can be very expensive. Recently, the Dothan Eagle reported that City Commissioners in Dothan, Alabama, were “frustrated” by high legal expenses in two separate cases. One case involved the termination of a former policeman, who was terminated in 2013 amid allegations that he was a known associate of an outlaw motorcycle gang. He sued the city alleging discrimination and wrongful termination in June 2014. The city filed for summary judgment, a pretrial conference is scheduled for early June, and trial is scheduled to begin on July 6. To date, the city has paid more than $150,000 in legal fees.
A second pending lawsuit alleges that another former police officer was wrongfully disciplined after displaying comments that “appeared to show support for a man who murdered police officers in California” and subsequently wrongfully terminated after a domestic dispute at her home when she allegedly “disobeyed a direct order”. To date, the city has spent more than $57,000 to defend this case.
Several city Commissioners expressed frustration with the speed, or lack thereof, of the cases getting resolved. Commissioner Kenward stated that “My issue with this is that it seems to be dangling out there for infinity… What do we have in hand that says we are taking definitive action on this?” Commissioner Ferguson stated: “I guess what we are trying to say is ‘When is this going to end?’”
Practice pointer. Employers must consider the cost of litigation, together with whether they think they did anything wrong or not, when evaluating whether to defend a case through trial or whether to settle a case. There is no right or wrong answer on what to do: it is up to each employer, and each situation, to determine what to do.