Wednesday, 6th March, 2013 

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Q. I work for a jerk boss and in a job I hate. I'd quit, except I'd rather be fired, because then I can sue the S.O.B.

He thinks he has all the power on his side. Not true, I've copied every file in this place and have disks at home with everything he's got on his personal computer and our company's server. I've taped every conversation we've had for the past month and several times he's lost his temper which won't make him look good.

I have a complete package to give to the attorney I select. Do you have any recommendations?

A. You've talked yourself into staying at a job you hate working for a boss you detest -- what does it cost you to be miserable every day? Will the money you make IF you win a lawsuit and after paying your attorney be worth it?

According to attorney Eric Meyer, partner in the Labor and Employment Group of Dilworth Paxson LLP, "That is a really large if. Some employees work for jerk bosses. Just being a jerk is not illegal."

Further, the evidence you're gathering might be inadmissible. Courts regularly rule against plaintiff employees (or ex-employees) who attempt to use information they've copied when they violate company confidentiality policies by copying proprietary documents.

Two relevant examples -- in Bonger vs. American Waterworks, Rosie Bonger photocopied and took offsite more than 3,000 pages of confidential company personnel files before being fired. When she sued after being fired, the Court awarded American Waterworks a summary judgment in its favor, ruling that employees should not benefit from wrongdoing such as the removal of company property.

Similarly in McKennon vs. Nashville Banner Publishing, after Nashville Banner Publishing terminated a 62-year-old employee, Christine McKennon, they learned McKennon copied confidential work documents and took them home, conduct that would have resulted in her termination if her managers had learned she'd done so. In that case, despite McKennon's 39-year-tenure and her excellent performance reviews, the trial and federal appeals courts rulings favored her employer, saying McKennon came "into court with dirty hands."

So, stop taping and copying. If you want to sue a current or former employer, call an attorney and outline the facts. If you have a viable case, your attorney will help you prepare for your lawsuit in ways that don't damage your chances.

According to attorney Charles Krugel, "The purpose of a lawsuit isn't to piss people off, or to make them look bad because they've pissed you off, or to exact revenge. It's to right illegal wrongs done to you.

"If you sue," adds Krugel, "you open yourself up to public scrutiny and to a retaliatory lawsuit brought by your employer in which you might pay for your employer's expenses in either defending or prosecuting a lawsuit against you."

Krugel urges you to let logic and a reputable plaintiff attorney guide you. After all, says Krugel, "any attorney who takes your case also opens him or herself up to monetary liability."

Finally, answer two questions. Is what you're planning worth what it's doing to you? And, what happens if the problem is you -- and not your jerk of a boss?

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management- employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to lynne(at)thegrowthcompany(dot)com. You can also follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10.


© Lynne Curry, February 2013,

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Thursday, 7th March, 2013 8:03 PM

Mr. Krugel obviously has a defense attorney's perspective. The "planning to sue" author might not be an ideal client for even a plaintiff's attorney. Yet the reality (at least in California) is that "retaliatory" lawsuits from employers are rare. If you are being mistreated at work, document, in writing, your concerns -- both to stand up for yourself, and the quality of your work; and to create your record. (It helps to have an attorney in your corner, as well. . . ) And, if the employer has broken the law, there are remedies available. I disagree strongly with Mr. Kruger that valid lawsuits should not be pursued because you "open yourself up to public scrutiny." For one thing, many cases are relegated to arbitration which is completely private. Much of the litigation process in court is private. But, more fundamentally, if wronged employees do not stand up for their rights -- and the only way to do that in many cases, is through the courts -- many employers will not abide by the various laws which require employers to treat employees fairly, and to compensate them properly.

Alden Knisbacher
(California attorney)

Friday, 8th March, 2013 8:50 PM

Attorney Knishbacher, thanks for great comments and insight. I completely agree that standing up for oneself is healthy and essential, Lynne

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