HR Focus: Plaintiffs Routinely Disappointed With Outcome of Employment Lawsuits

Volume 11, Issue 5
June 12, 2012

On May 11, 2012, the American Bar Foundation released a report that analyzed approximately 1,800 employment discrimination lawsuits and included in-depth interviews with 41 of the plaintiffs.  The report is useful for employers to understand what plaintiffs really think about the legal process when they file a discrimination lawsuit.

According to the report, the plaintiffs "largely feel disappointed" by their litigation experience.  Only 3 of 41 who were interviewed said they were "very satisfied" with the outcome, 23 said they were dissatisfied, and 15 were undecided.  The report noted that approximately 50% of the almost 1,800 cases were dismissed for various reasons and the overwhelming majority of the remaining 50% were settled.  Usually, in a termination claim, the settlement involved the employee agreeing not to return to work.  According to the report, "plaintiffs' disappointment about not being reinstated - expressed by those whom observers might identify as big winners and big losers - confirms prior findings that workers drastically misjudge the degree of job protection the law provides."  Furthermore, the report stated that "only a handful of those surveyed considered the financial amount of the settlement as adequate."  The report added that "Plaintiffs see unfairness in the resolution of their cases, a point in litigation at which they are typically at a disadvantage relative to their employers. . . .  These disadvantages also include plaintiffs' failure to recoup a job and other material losses and their emotional disappointment, most notably with a huge gulf between hope and reality."  The report stated that employer claims that settlements are unreasonable is really a myth.  This myth, according to the report, "hides the fact that nuisance settlements essentially buy the employer out of trouble."  When employers are faced with discrimination claims involving termination, many employers are concerned that a settlement will lead to more claims or that somehow the plaintiff will have "won" as an outcome of the settlement.  It is rare for the settlement of one claim to leader to others.  Usually, if and when a settlement occurs, the employee is far removed from the workplace and the outcome of the settlement, as validated by this report, is not something the plaintiff feels good about.  Plus, the plaintiff has not returned to work which also sends a message to other employees.  This HR Focus article was prepared by Lehr Middlebrooks & Vreeland, P.C., a member of the Worklaw® Network and first appeared in their Employment Bulletin, Vol. 20, Issue 5 (May 31, 2012). Reprinted with permission.

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