We often caution readers to call an experienced labor and employment attorney before taking adverse action against an employee. It may seem that we’re just shamelessly hunting for business. The real reason, though, is that the price tag of a a mistake is just so darn high. Here’s a recent example.
In 2007 Sheridan Health Care Center, a nursing home, discharged Danielle Pickett, but only after she complained that she was being sexually harassed by residents of the facility. She filed suit for sexual harassment and retaliation. The court eventually ruled against her on the harassment claim, but ruled in her favor on the retaliation claim. As the law provides, her attorneys sought an order for the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees.
The court recently awarded the plaintiff’s attorneys in excess of $131,000 for their fees, finding that an hourly rate of $425 was reasonable. That’s more than double the award to the plaintiff of $65,000. It’s a safe guess that the employer’s own attorneys didn’t charge less than the plaintiff’s attorneys did.
Why are we telling you this? This decision serves as a reminder to employers that employment actions can be a high stakes game. Ensure that actions with employees are informed and well documented, despite the fact that they often occur at a time when emotions run high on both sides. A mistake can cost an employer not only an award to the employee, but the employee’s attorney as well, along with paying the employer’s own attorney.
No lawyer can guarantee results, but a safer course of action for employers is to spend money for well-trained supervisors and managers, up to date policies and guidance before final employment decisions are made.