Being Harassed or Discriminated Against – DOCUMENT IT

Being harassed and discriminated against at work, what do you do?  DOCUMENT.

Obviously, immediately consult with a competent employment lawyer, but in the meantime document what is happening by writing down who said or did what to who, and who was present that might have overheard the harassment.

Credibility Is Critical

We live in California where employers provide training to their supervisors on their anti discrimination and harassment policies.  So what happens?  Harassers will rarely make their harassing comments in a room full of employees.  In many situations it is done privately and made only so the intended victim can hear it.  On occasion, there may be a close confidant of the harasser who will not corroborate the victim’s testimony.

Trials are intended to be a search for truth but sometimes jurors are stuck with deciding who is telling the truth with only an accusation and a denial to go on.  What do they do?  They go with the person they find credible.  But how, how do jurors determine credibility?  They are given a jury instruction from the judge regarding witnesses and credibility.  See CACI 5003 – Witnesses.    As you can see it largely leaves the determination of credibility to the individual juror who often makes that determination through speculation and interpretation of the non-verbal cues and body language of each witness.

Jurors sometimes will reach the conclusion that a witness lacked credibility because they stammered, hesitated, or seemed nervous during a particular line of questioning.  However, experienced trial counsel will have prepared their witness with endless hours of practice to avoid such unintentional cues.  Ideally, the juror would like the cross-examining attorney to catch the witness in one of those courtroom drama style gotcha moments and watch the witness squirm.  Again, experienced litigators will have had their witness prepared with their deposition testimony and will have practiced mock cross examinations with them.  Do not rely on the harasser cracking under pressure.

Build Credibility With The Details

The key testimony of the alleged harasser is often simply a denial, “No” or “I’ve never said anything like that.”  The victim can testify about the details of their interactions with the alleged harasser, their co-workers, and the work environment in general.  Assuming the testimony is relevant, unimpeachable, and corroborated by other witnesses, the victim’s lawyer is telling a story and using  testimony to bolster the victim’s credibility.  Is it definitive?  Definitely not, but when done right (i.e. quickly and not boring the jury), it can be effective.

In interviewing countless numbers of people with claims of harassment, people often respond to my initial question of “Tell me about the harassment” with the general statement “He harassed me all the time.”  I respond, “Okay, can you give me an example of what he did that you didn’t like.”  The person responds, “Oh he would just say sexual things to me all the time.”  Now I have to be direct, “What exactly did he say?”  The person responds, “He said he liked my body.”  My question, “Okay, when did he say that to you?”  The person responds “Oh he would say that all the time.”  You have just lost the jury; half of them are rolling their eyes and the other half are going to sleep.  This person may have been unlawfully harassed but is just not articulate or has been traumatized by the events and is hesitant to get into the details.  Or, too often, they are grossly exaggerating (intentionally or unintentionally) how often a statement was made.  Competent trial counsel understand that credibility is also on them as the victim’s lawyer to get the details well before deciding to file a lawsuit and making such serious allegations.

Document, Document, Document

It is hard when you’re on the witness stand, in the deposition room, or even when you’re being interviewed for a potential claim to remember exactly when, where, what was said, and who was present with the precision that a litigator demands.  In some cases, testifying at trial can be years after it happened.  This is why you should write it down when or shortly after it happens.

Go to Staples or Office Depot and buy a notepad.  Don’t document in your everyday calendar. In just about every case I have litigated defense counsel has sent the following request:

If you wrote your notes of what happened in your personal calendar, now you need to produce it.  Your lawyer will be investing in boxes of Sharpies to redact out just about the rest of your calendar or diary which will undoubtedly cause the defense counsel to inquire what is being hidden.  But, if you don’t write down notes in your personal calendar or diary, the other side is likely never going to be entitled to a copy of your personal items.

More importantly, “DOCUMENTS” also often includes digital files stored on a computer or smart phone, which becomes significant when a person takes notes on their online calendars, texts and/or emails.  Think twice before using your work computer, even if working remotely on the company laptop, to take notes or email a description of events to yourself.  Your company undoubtedly has access to your work email account and documents on the computer.  Even if you are using an online email account like Gmail or Yahoo, if on your company’s lap top or phone, your employer’s IT department may be sophisticated enough to record your key strokes and will make an argument to get access to those accounts.  You also may be violating your employer’s policy concerning internet use or personal use of company equipment.  Why give them the excuse?  Use your time at work to work and make your notes at home.  See Work Hard Until The End – The Mixed Motive Defense.

Your simple store bought note pad used exclusively for this purpose is not going to be evidence that you are telling the truth, but it is going to help you remember the details so you do not generalize and exaggerate.  Your notes may contain details that while not admissible, provide your lawyer with leads to people that may have critical facts that support your claims.

Another Avenue Of Documentation Is Reporting To Others

Your Employer’s HR Department Should Document Your Complaints

The vast majority of employers in California have paid money to create a line of communication for grievances.  Use it if you can.  Will it help you?  Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.  The point here is that those professionals are to document your claims.  However, they are typically employees of your company and tend to look to protect the company first, then the employee.  They may consciously or unconsciously fail to take down critical facts, so it is still helpful to take your own notes.

Doctors Will Usually Record Why Their Patient Is Seeing Them

If you are visiting your doctor for medical treatment because of the harassment or discrimination you are experiencing, tell your medical provider exactly that.  (It should go without saying, but tell the medical provider that is taking notes.  You may have a great relationship with your doctor’s staff, but they will not likely remember the details.)  Doctors generally have little time to get into your employment issues and can be notoriously bad note takers.  Be clear and concise as possible.

You Still Need To Prove Your Claims

Following this course will not mean that you will win your lawsuit.  You must prove your claims that you were harassed or discriminated against unlawfully.  Document events and conversations in detail to help you and your lawyer prove your case.  To maintain some privacy, do not use your personal items, like a family calendar or diary to document events.

Use Common Sense

This is not intended to be legal advice, but rather this is a general common-sense approach to a difficult situation that employees face.  It is not applicable in all situations and it may not be applicable in yours.  If you feel you are being treated unfairly in the workplace, contact me, or another competent employment law attorney for legal advice for your specific situation.

This article is made available by THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of legal issues, and not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading this and/or commenting, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C.  The information contained herein should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Before Changing Or Adjusting Your Medications, Consider Letting Your Employer Know.  Why?

At-Will? The Reality Is There Is Often A Reason

I have discussions with many people about the at-will nature of employment these days, about how either party can terminate the employment relationship on a whim.  But let’s be honest.  Terminating the employment relationship, by either the employee or the employer, for no reason, rarely happens.  There is usually a reason.  The employee quit for a better opportunity, or the employer replaced the employee for a better opportunity.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with work and has to do with some sort of conflict.  A lot of times it has to do with money.

Many medical conditions and disabilities are protected categories.  Unlike other protected categories, such as race, people don’t hate someone because they have a medical condition such as cancer.  What employers and supervisors have animosity towards is missed work.

A Reasonable Accommodation Can Be Time Off

Doctors and medical providers have the same business hours as most employees which means employees must miss work for treatment or check ups.  This time off can be a reasonable accommodation.  But here is the issue.

Reasonable Accommodations Are Prospective In Nature

The duty of an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability under the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”) is prospective in nature.  What does this mean?

Let’s say an employee with a medical condition needs to change their medication pursuant to their doctor’s orders.  But, the change in medication causes temporary adverse effects on the employee, such as moodiness or lack of focus.  Then the lack of focus causes an error in work performance resulting in a write-up, or worse, termination.

When informing the employee of the discipline, the employee states, “but it is because my doctor changed my medications and I have the doctor’s notes.”   Because the duty to provide a reasonable accommodation is prospective, and in the situation where the employer was never notified, the employer is not required to reverse their decision to discipline the employee.

What Is Right vs. What Is Legal – Do You Know Your HR?

I agree the right thing to do would be to forgive the employee.  However, I was reading an article recently for HR professionals where many were posting their approval of not having to reverse their employment decisions.  It was shocking to me that so many were more interested in disciplining the employee rather than doing what was right.

Putting Your Employer On Notice Of Your Disability And Need For Accommodation Helps Protect Your Rights

If you have a disability or medical condition, consider putting your employer on notice of it and inform them of your potential needs.  Your disability and/or medical condition may not affect your job generally, but on occasions where you need time off to visit your doctor, rest after a treatment, or adjust to medications, putting your employer on notice prior to your need can protect your job.

Are there those employers and supervisors that will discriminate against you because of their fear you are going to miss work?  Unfortunately, yes.  However, in vindicating your rights, you must prove that your employer knew or should have known of your disability and need for accommodation.  That is so much easier to do with an email from you to your employer stating such as opposed to your testimony that you told your manager, or that your manager should have known by way of vague references during discussions.

You Still Have To Prove Your Claims

Following this course will not mean that you will win in a lawsuit.  You must prove your claims that you were harassed or discriminated against unlawfully.  The point here is to never give your employer an excuse to justify terminating your employment and escape liability for their or their supervisor’s unlawful harassment/discrimination.

Use Common Sense & Contact An Employment Lawyer

This is not intended to be legal advice, but rather this is a general common-sense approach to a difficult situation employees experience.  If you feel you are being treated unfairly in the workplace, contact me, or another competent employment law attorney for legal advice for your specific situation.

This article is made available by THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of legal issues, and not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading this and/or commenting, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C.  The information contained herein should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Work Hard To The End – The Mixed Motive Defense

Being harassed and discriminated against at work and can’t find the motivation to still work hard, what do you do? 

Obviously, immediately consult with a competent employment lawyer, but in the meantime don’t give up and don’t give your employer an excuse by lowering the quality of your work.  Time after time, I’ve seen long term employees with good to stellar performance reviews year after year, but the last one was “needs improvement.”  What happened?

Many times the discriminating employer/supervisor began “papering the employee file” to justify their ultimate termination decision, suddenly becoming uniquely critical of the employee’s work.  Other times, the employee required time off due to the harassment and could no longer produce the quantity of work they had completed in the past.  And sometimes, the employee succumbed and decided to slack off because, well why put in the hours and the sacrifice to be treated like trash.  It is understandable to want to give up when being demeaned or harassed in the workplace, but do not lower yourself to their level.

Jurors And The Mixed Motive Defense

Jurors are people just like you, and some not like you.  They may be understanding of your feelings and the lack of motivation, but then again, they may not.  You will not know truly how they feel about your situation until you hear their verdict.  Don’t take that chance.  The defense lawyer is going to paint an image of you that your work performance, while good through the years, suffered recently and resulted in your separation of employment.  They will argue your poor work performance was the “real” reason for the decision to ultimately end your employment.

Some jurors believe that discrimination was eradicated during the era of black and white televisions.  For these jurors it is easier for them to believe that a solid long term employee suddenly became a bad one.  Some jurors will believe both parties, that there was some discrimination involved in the employment decision as well as the employee’s recent poor performance was an unrelated reason that motivated the employer’s decision to terminate.  This is called the “mixed motive” defense.

Harris v. The City of Santa Monica

The California Supreme Court held in Harris v. The City of Santa Monica, that in claims brought under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (the California law that prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation based on specific protected categories), when a jury finds that unlawful discrimination was a substantial factor motivating the decision to separate employment, and when the employer proves it would have made the same decision regardless of the unlawful motivation, the Court cannot award lost income and related damages to the employee.  Think of this in baseball terms as the “tie goes to the runner” but the “runner” here is the employer.  The employer is safe.  It doesn’t seem fair given the economic disparity between the typical employer and employee, but it is the reality.

Focus On What You Can Control By Continuing To Work Hard

You have the power to keep doing your job to the best you can.  Why give the employer an excuse, or at the very least, an argument?  In most cases where the employer desires to terminate an employee, the employer will document good work performance as bad work performance.  In this situation, the experienced employment law attorney can demonstrate through employment records and other evidence that the employee’s work performance did not diminish, but that the employer’s expectations uniquely and dramatically changed to support their discriminatory conduct.  If you continue to demonstrate superior work ethics through the challenges your facing, the value of your case may increase due to being able to prove the employer is lying about the job performance.  Jurors in employment cases appreciate hard workers; they loathe liars and those that they perceive are trying to cheat or fool them or the system whether it is the employer or the employee.

Consider Using The Company’s Designated Channels To Get Help

The vast majority of employers in California have paid money to create a line of communication for grievances.  Use it if you can.  Will it help you?  Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.  Many jurors will look favorably on a plaintiff who used the proper channels to bring a complaint and gave the employer the opportunity to remedy the situation.   Likewise, many jurors will also look with disfavor on a company that ignored or even punished the employee after they used the proper channels seeking help.  Unscrupulous employers and supervisors, when faced with unlawful conduct by a supervisor or manager, will use an “unaware” human resources person to make the employment decision to terminate.  The way to combat this is to put the human resources department on notice of the harassment or discrimination one is facing.

You Still Need To Prove Your Claims

Following this course will not mean that you will win your lawsuit.  You must prove your claims that you were harassed or discriminated against unlawfully.  The point here is to never give your employer an excuse to justify their or their supervisor’s unlawful harassment/discrimination.

Use Common Sense

This is not intended to be legal advice, but rather this is a general common-sense approach to a difficult situation that employees experience.  It is not applicable in all situations and it may not be applicable in yours.  If you feel you are being treated unfairly in the workplace, contact me, or another competent employment law attorney for legal advice for your specific situation.

This article is made available by THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of legal issues, and not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading this and/or commenting, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C.  The information contained herein should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Don’t Become A Toxic Employee

You Love Your Job But You Are Being Harassed And Discriminated Against, Now What?

Obviously, immediately consult with a competent employment lawyer, but in the meantime don’t give up and don’t give your employer an excuse by being disruptive or acting in any way unbecoming to any co-worker, manager, customer, and/or vendor.  I understand that it can be difficult to keep your composure and limit your reactions when being demeaned or harassed in the workplace, but do not lower yourself to their level.

Consider What Would A Juror Think

Jurors are people just like you, and some not like you.  They may be forgiving of an unprofessional outburst in response to mistreatment, but then again, they may not.  You will not know truly how they feel about your situation until you hear their verdict.  Don’t take that chance.  I’ve never heard a juror say they didn’t like the plaintiff/employee because they acted at all times in a professional and reasonable manner.

Don’t Become The Toxic Employee

Try to not become a toxic or disgruntled employee.  If you have friends in the workplace that are not involved in the problems or issues you are having there, it is probably better to be a good friend to them and leave them out of it.  I’ve never seen a lawsuit become successful because the employee continually complained about what a horrible person their supervisor was to a fellow colleague who had nothing to do with any of it.  In the vast majority of situations, telling another colleague about harassment will not be evidence of harassment.  If that friend did not witness the harassment for themselves, that friend’s testimony about what you told them is likely to be considered inadmissible hearsay and will not be considered by a judge or jury for liability against the company.  On the flip side, I have seen people lose their jobs for saying or writing inappropriate things about managers to other co-workers, customers and/or clients and the employee’s statements ironically used as justification for terminating the employment.

(Click here to learn about the “mixed motive” defense employers will try to use to defeat your claims.)

Speak To Those That Can Help

This is not to say that you should keep silent.  Asking a friend in the workplace for advice or asking if they have seen similar conduct is much different from the person who is constantly going around attempting to diminish a supervisor’s reputation or authority in the workplace to anyone that will listen.   A better course of action often times is to bring the conduct to the attention of the people the company has designated to help you.  The vast majority of employers in California have paid money to create a line of communication for grievances.  Use it if you can.  Will it help you?  Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.  Many jurors will look favorably on a plaintiff who used the proper channels to bring a complaint and gave the employer the opportunity to remedy the situation.   Likewise, many jurors will also look with disfavor on a company that ignored or even punished the employee after they used the proper channels seeking help.

You Still Have To Prove Your Claims

Following this course will not mean that you will win your lawsuit.  You must prove your claims that you were harassed or discriminated against unlawfully.  The point here is to never give your employer an excuse to justify terminating your employment and escape liability for their or their supervisor’s unlawful harassment/discrimination.

Use Common Sense & Contact An Employment Lawyer

This is not intended to be legal advice, but rather this is a general common-sense approach to a difficult situation employees experience.  If you feel you are being treated unfairly in the workplace, contact me, or another competent employment law attorney for legal advice for your specific situation.

This article is made available by THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of legal issues, and not to provide specific legal advice.  By reading this and/or commenting, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and THE TIBOR LAW FIRM, A.P.C.  The information contained herein should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.