Thursday, May 28, 2009

A cautionary lesson in litigation management

10 years ago, an Atlanta restaurant fired its highest ranking female manager. Last month, a federal jury finally dismissed her sexual harassment case. The latest verdict was the third handed down by a federal jury in the last five years. In the interim:

  • The employer won the first jury trial in 2004.
  • The employee appealed, and the 11th Circuit sent the case back down for retrial, but ordered a mediation before case could be retried.
  • At the second trial, the employee won a $2.05 million verdict.
  • This time, the employer appealed, and the 11th Circuit again sent the case back down for retrial, with yet another court-ordered mediation.
  • Facing insurmountable defense costs and having to post a bond to secure the multi-million dollar verdict on appeal, the restaurant went into bankruptcy. quotes the plaintiff’s lawyer, Edward D. Buckley III: “The moral of the story is that there is real value to settling these kinds of cases for both parties. That is something that there were many occasions when it could have occurred, but unfortunately it didn't. The 11th Circuit urged us to engage in meaningful settlement discussions. At least one of the district judges involved in the case urged us [to settle] and tried to facilitate that. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.”

Let this case serve a lesson for all businesses. This case spun out of everyone’s control – the lawyers and the parties. If everyone had put emotion aside (and their is no doubt that three trials and two appeals over 10 years is fueled purely by anger or spite, and not common sense and reason), the plaintiff would have realized that a guaranteed something is better than a roll of the dice, and the employer would have realized that paying a settlement is better than losing everything on principle.

I’m not arguing that the parties should have caved as soon as the case was filed. Indeed, some cases can only be resolved by a trial. After that trial, however, the parties should have listened to the court and viewed the verdict for what it was -- an opportunity to settle, not a reason to fight on.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or