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Think twice before going to court

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

One of the most difficult challenges I face can be helping office managers and owners resist an urge to “fight it out” in court.

There are times when it is necessary to take legal action or aggressively defend action against your organization. But in most cases, it should be your last resort.

First, going to court is a roll of the dice. You may feel certain of your position. You may believe that it will be easy to overpower your opponent with your company’s resources.

Don’t bet on it.

Going to court is always a gamble. No lawyer on Earth can guarantee a winning verdict or outcome. The court system has countless rules and many are vague. I have found that judgments are not so much about fairness or the validity or even about the law. Judgments are often about the lawyer. What decides the outcome of many cases is who has the sharpest, most convincing attorney and who has better rapport with the judge or jury.

You may remember the case last year in which a woman was fired because she was “too irresistible” to her employer, an Iowa dentist. Because the employer could not work around her due to her good looks and his sexual attraction to her, she had to go. Not surprisingly, she sued.

As the case unfolded, many observers thought it was ridiculous that someone could legally terminate an employee because he or she was too alluring. This, in fact, was my opinion. But the Iowa Supreme Court sided with the employer. Many saw this as a blanket endorsement of owners and managers. I think it mainly illustrates how unpredictable the courts can be.

To me, the lesson for office managers is that you are nearly always better off avoiding court in the first place. Although this case went in favor of the office—the dentist—I wouldn’t bet on another verdict with slightly different circumstances or even a different presentation.

That’s why I nearly always recommend that clients do whatever they can to avoid getting into a legal trap. If they are confronted with a lawsuit, I stress that negotiation is nearly always better than rolling the dice in court. I strongly recommend that you have systems and experts in place to protect yourself. If you do find yourself in a legal issue, your first priority should be using HR experts and labor attorneys, not trial lawyers.

Shortly before the Iowa case, I dealt with an organization facing its own personnel issue, including a possible lawsuit. The losses easily could have reached six figures. As in most such cases, there was also the possibility of action—and fines—by the U.S. Department of Justice or Department of Labor. Instead, we worked with the employee to structure a separation that included $30,000 in payments to help retrain him for starting another career. Yes, that was $30,000 the organization had to pay, but that was far less than other possibilities.

Or remember our Iowa dentist. While he won the legal case, I believe he still lost. He spent more than two years worrying and probably in excess of $150,000 defending himself. Who really won that case?

Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit or call (913) 927-0229.

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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