According to a recent American Bar Foundation study, no one (other than perhaps lawyers) believes that employment lawsuits are a good thing.
The sociologists behind the study examined 1,788 cases and conducted 100 interviews. The conclusion: both employers and plaintiffs find the whole process humongously unsatisfying.
What Employers Said
Employers’ #1 complaint is that absolutely anyone can file an absolutely frivolous suit with absolutely no repercussions. Many plaintiffs don’t pay by the hour so the perception is they have no “skin in the game.”
The solution? Some of the employers interviewed called for plaintiffs to pay something if they lose.
What Plaintiffs Said
Plaintiffs also find the process unfair. Many actually broke down in tears during their interviews.
Plaintiffs usually start out optimistic quickly get frustrated as the litigation unfolds. They experience long time gaps between seemingly inexplicable litigation events, they get irked by a lack of attention from their lawyers, their personal lives are affected and they rarely get any sort of final ruling on the merits of their case.
A whopping 66% of the plaintiffs interviewed said their attorneys were either incompetent or worked against their interests. Nearly a fourth thought their lawyers were flat-out corrupt.
Of the 34% of plaintiffs who felt their lawyers actually had integrity or skills, nearly half said their lawyers made mistakes, gave them bad advice or even colluded with the defendant.
Contrary to the “no skin in the game” view of employers, some plaintiffs mortgaged their homes and took extra jobs to pay their legal fees. Some were forced to declared bankruptcy. “I lost my wife and my family and my home,” said one plaintiff. “My wife left me … because I became unbearable to be around. And I lost my kids.”
While both sides find the process unfair and unsatisfying, the researchers found that plaintiffs generally suffer far more during litigation: “For plaintiffs, litigation is expensive and can bring real personal hardships. Many end up divorced, depressed, even bankrupt. Employers do not like litigation either, but they usually have the resources and expertise to keep these cases under control.”
The Bottom Line
The study makes it even clearer why 99.9999% of employment lawsuits settle: the process is painful for both sides. Each party should attempt to see things from the other’s perspective as they work together — respectfully — toward a mutually satisfactory solution before spending lots of $$$ on lawyers and getting ground to a pulp by the system.