The conventional wisdom is that you litigate the big cases with good facts. While that is generally true, it’s often a mistake to forgo attempts at pre-suit mediation in such cases. In virtually every case I plan to litigate, I reach out to the other side prior to suit and explore settlement, often with surprisingly good results. In particularly sensitive cases – sex harassment, for example, where even a successful lawsuit more often than not re-victimizes my clients – I will push for early mediation, before a complaint is ever filed.
I was reminded again of the wisdom of this approach with a recent case, which settled for close to a million dollars after pre-suit mediation. There, my clients were able to have an opportunity to be heard by their employer on extremely sensitive issues in a setting that was safe, non-confrontational, and confidential. The mediation process resulted in a number of significant non-monetary policy changes that were important to my clients, as well as a sizable monetary settlement, all achieved within 60 days of my clients walking in my door. Most importantly, my clients felt that their experience with the legal system and with their employer was a positive one that respected their dignity and valued their losses. They and their employer are moving on with their employment relationship without the significant distraction and damage of a multi-year discrimination suit. It was truly the best outcome for everyone involved.
Last year, I settled a $450,000 sex harassment suit against Central Michigan University in a similar fashion. My clients were young women who played soccer at CMU. The soccer coach there engaged in inappropriate contact with them, and left his job following their allegations. CMU wanted to do the right thing for the students and families involved, and a public sex harassment lawsuit – in which the University would have legal defenses that would have been hurtful and damaging to the young women involved and where my clients would lose their privacy and open their lives up to public scrutiny – was not the right approach for anyone. Rather than filing a complaint and sending it to the newspaper, I approached the University first and suggested mediation. The mediation process itself not only resolved the legal claims in a timely fashion that allowed my clients to continue their college careers, but, again, my clients walked away with a significant monetary settlement and commitments to policy changes at CMU that would help protect other young women from predatory conduct by coaches.
These examples, of course, are the success stories. Not every case can or will be settled early; often litigation is the only means available to achieve justice for our clients. But in my view too often lawyers don’t explore as carefully as they should whether a lawsuit is necessary in the first place. And in every case I view my job as not just maximizing the financial result for my client, but as respecting my clients’ overall goals, careers, privacy and dignity. Of course, when those goals can be accomplished along with a million dollar settlement, that’s a good day by anyone’s measure.
NachtLaw, P.C., Nacht & Roumel, P.C, are experienced employment lawyers in Ann Arbor, Traverse City and Birmingham. Serving clients all over Michigan. Call (888) 312-7173 to talk to a lawyer.