Herman Cain’s Settlements

November/07/2011 16:27PM
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I don’t know what Herman Cain did to get two or three sexual harassment settlements. I do know this, I had a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed, and settled, and you be the judge of this.

In the mid 80’s our company was woefully behind in our diversity hiring and promotion. We were working very hard to correct that. And, we were working fast. When you work too fast, you make mistakes.

Young women with MBA’s were not common. We promoted a young woman into my department based on the MBA, not ability. She did not report to me, she reported to a subordinate of mine. He came to me and said Ms. X is not working out. She doesn’t finish assignments on time, she doesn’t do good work, and she seems to be defiant about making corrections. I told him he must follow the rules regarding performance issues. He needed to have a performance evaluation, document the deficiencies, and develop a performance improvement plan with dates and timetables. He did that. Mid-stream we sent him off to Harvard Business School for a Management Development Program that lasted 14 weeks. In his absence I picked up the performance improvement plan for his female employee.

The employee did not meet the mutually agreed performance improvement criteria. She showed no indication of intent to improve. And the end of the timetable with the blessing of human resources and law, we let her go. She did not go peacefully. Her words to me were, ” I will sue this company for so much money I will never have to work again.”

The next day she filed with the EEOC. Then she hired an attorney. Her attorney filed a lawsuit. Then, naturally, after discussions with our HR and Law people, her attorney offered a settlement figure. As I recall, the figure was $250,000. As the primary management person in the suit, I got to make the call. My call was let’s go to court.

Some time later I spent 4 hours in a deposition with the ex-employee, her attorney, and my attorney. By then, I had probably been deposed a few dozen times, but this was the first for an employee dismissal case. We had solid documentation and her attorney seemed surprised with our facts.

A few days later her attorney came back with a settlement offer of $30,000. I said no. We countered at $10,000 and they took the settlement. Obviously, you can’t go to trial for $10,000. If her attorney got the customary 40% she got $6,000, hardly enough to retire.

But, in fact, I, and my company, did settle a sexual discrimination suit. If I were running for office like Cain, this person could say I was involved in a sexual discrimination case in the mid-80″s and it was settled.

Please understand, I’m not defending Cain. Three settlements for sexual harassment seems hard to explain. But, I did deal with a few of those where employees of mine were accused of inappropriate behavior. In all cases they were resolved by HR and no one left the company and no settlements were involved.

In large corporations the law departments will always prefer settlement to court. Corporate attorneys are not litigators. Outside counsel must be hired. If the amount of the settlement is less than the projected amount of the outside legal fees, then settlement is normally the answer. Understanding this seems important in the Herman Cain case. Once someone gets a settlement it is not uncommon for another employee who may be unhappy on the job to follow that same road.

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