I about had a stroke (which is really not funny) when I read comments on the story about Susan Inhe, a former editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times who filed a $15 million wrongful termination suit. Sadly, they seem to have been removed, thus you will have to take my word for it.
In the interest of education, here's a little quiz about why a woman who worked for a company for 27 years only to be fired by a man who'd been there half a minute deserves to be innocent until proven idiotic. In addition to any personal desire to, say, not be a sexist jerk. There is no prize except the knowledge that you don't need two hands to find your ass.
True or false.
1. The day after you get mad (or get fired), you can hire an attorney and file a $15 million suit. Uh, no. False. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC to its friends, is a federal agency charged with investigating discrimination claims, primarily with an eye toward reducing the burden on the courts and protecting companies from false claims by people confused about their rights in the workplace or in some cases, money-grubbing liars.
Therefore, anyone making a complaint must file paperwork with the agency, which then has 180 days to conduct an inquiry. Six months in which the complainant must wait - without her job or working in the situation that prompted the charge in the first place. Granted, the EEOC could comb through documents, conduct interviews, file paperwork and issue a ruling much more quickly. (see #2)
Or the problem could be resolved via mediation. Even before beginning an investigation, the agency will try to get both parties in a room with an impartial, specially trained referee.
If no agreement can be had, an investigation begins and the EEOC ultimately comes to the conclusion that: yes, there was a violation; or no, there's not enough evidence to support the charge. Then they will again seek to have the problem resolved with a friendly discussion.
Of course, the EEOC could find the violation so egregious that they file a lawsuit against the company on behalf of the federal government but that doesn't happen very often. In any case, if there is no mediation - or if the plaintiff just gets to the end of the 180-day period and can't bear to wait a minute longer - the EEOC will issue a right-to-sue letter and the legal party commences.
The bottom line is, by the time one gets to the actual filing of a lawsuit, it's usually been a long time and multiple negotiation attempts have failed.
2. The EEOC is well-funded, with plenty of staff dedicated to thorough investigations of each claim with tenacity, vigor and unlimited resources. Please. What do you think? That the recent administration had a soft spot for the EEOC? They are, I'm guessing, underpaid, and are definitely overworked and under-appreciated, especially now that thousands lose their jobs about every day. Most likely they chose their career with aspirations of contributing to the equality and justice of the American workplace, and ended up spending most their time bouncing between lawyers and mediating discussions of high drama and bad feelings. Sounds great, doesn't it?
3. People who seek millions are greedy bitches. True. Because they have to be. Most attorneys will take 30% of whatever the plaintiff wins/settles for, and often don't get paid until then, which can take years. Hence the price tag. There are court fees and stenographer fees and deposition fees and FedEx fees and flying-in-expert-witnesses fees. At that rate, suing for a mere million would likely net the victim a buck fifty. If she won at all. There's just no telling in a jury trial, as any attorney worth her salt will tell a client from the get-go. Going to court is a risk, often more so for the complainant, who does not have corporate lawyers, defense funds and/or a diffusion of the suffering that defendants often have.
4. Sometimes people are actually seeking justice, for themselves and others. True. The courts are a primary avenue for real reform. It's not real fun for people who set out to change the world. In big cases, with larges issues at stake, appeals can take years. The personal toll on defendants is staggering financially, emotionally and physically. Not to mention the beating their reputation takes from anyone who feels entitled to comment. Which is almost everyone, apparently.
Punitive damages can be a catalyst for change. These are usually high-dollar, court-imposed awards that are designed to hurt the defendant in the place they are most vulnerable: their wallet. As the name implies, these awards are to punish the offender for the discrimination and encourage other companies to mind their manners. It's what often drives a company to settle.
Or a high-profile case can gain attention and get laws changed. And sometimes, all people want is the chance to be heard, to be vindicated, to be fairly compensated for damages inflicted by people who broke the law.
5. Only people with impeccable work records have a right to go to court. False. Employers are still required to follow the rules, even for a mediocre employee. Sex discrimination lawsuits aren't about hurt feelings or bad attitudes. They are intended to determine if illegal actions occurred, "illegal" as in conduct and practices that violate the laws of the United States of America. That's why there is a judicial system. So people can prove their point. Or not.
The real issue I see is this pervasive notion that women have some how achieved equality and don't need the protection offered by Title VII. That corporations are always the victims of nuisance suits because bilking them out of money via that method is so easy. (Interestingly, most EEOC-negotiated settlements involve solutions other than large checks payable to the complainant.)
Yes, there are ridiculous claims that reward the legally industrious because it's cheaper to settle than go to court. But that's the system we have created. The flaws in that system should not be used as weapons against the women - and men - who seek redress for real, provable wrongs.
Many women have shared with me their stories of treatment that was not only unlawful, but reprehensible. What if your daughter had been verbally abused and fired? Or your wife were arbitrarily making thousands less than her male colleagues? Or your sister's ass was the one being fondled?
To immediate dismiss discrimination lawsuits with such contempt is to perpetuate the very thing they seek to eliminate: A view of women as less worthy, less believable, less entitled to equality in the workplace.
Love her, hate her, know her or not, Ms. Ihne's right for a chance to prove her truth is unassailable.