Trial By Employer

How to strive in the workplace after you've sued your company

Mr. Long worked at a major telecommunications company for four years and felt he was denied opportunities because he was an African American male. He watched his white counterparts receive the best clients, financial rewards and promotions, while his achievements were constantly overlooked. After trying to resolve these issues with the company’s management, Long filed a complaint with the New York State Human Rights Department. Within 10 days, his employer was notified of his complaint–and that’s when the real trouble began. For the next two years, Long was ostracized by co-workers, excluded from company meetings and shuffled from a nice office to a bare cubicle. Eventually, Long left the company, the case went to court and was settled in his favor. He later relocated to Georgia.

“After filing a lawsuit, the climate can be pretty awful,” says Rosemary Augustine, author of Facing Changes in Employment: A Guide to Creating Employment for Todays Workforce! (Blue Spruce Publishing, 800-559-6165; $12.95). You may feel ostracized and paranoid and may even have second thoughts about having done it. She advises that you develop a strong network before filing a claim. “That way, when the word about your claim gets out, you’ll have people in your corner to provide support,” she says.

If you find yourself in the midst of turmoil after filing a lawsuit, keep the lines of communication open, Augustine suggests. “Let everyone know that you’re still interested in doing a good job,” she says. “If necessary, have a formal meeting with your supervisor or colleagues to discuss how you can make the situation work.”

From a legal standpoint, employers are hardest hit by discrimination, sexual harassment and disability suits. Employees filing any legal claim, especially one involving sensitive issues, can expect to be under close scrutiny during and after the judgment, says Walter Jones Jr. of the law firm of Pugh, Jones & Johnson in Chicago. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t immediately jump ship. “There are many employees who have successful careers at a company after they file a lawsuit,” says Jones. Generally, those employees have been part of large, class-action suits, such as those at Mitsubishi (sued for sexual harassment by its female employees) and Delta Air Lines (sued for discrimination for its weight restriction policy for flight attendants).

If you are planning to file a lawsuit against your firm, Tones offers the following suggestions:

Put your best foot forward.
Regardless of what you were doing before the lawsuit, now is the time to ensure that your performance is up to par. Play strictly by the rules and make sure you accomplish everything outlined in your job description. Don’t give your employer any ammunition to discredit your claim.

Gather information.
Make copies of salary charts, keep records of memos, and save your evaluations and anything else relevant to your job. Also, do all of your communicating in writing.

Protect yourself against retaliation.
According to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, your company cannot retaliate just because you choose to protect your rights. Your employer will be buying further punitive action

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