In June 2013, the WSBA held a CLE/NLE called “Handling your First Employment Discrimination Case.” Here are three key points I learned at the seminar, which play a huge role in processing employment discrimination cases (#1 and #2 can definitely apply to other areas of law, as well).
1) Vet your clients carefully.
Claire Cordon, of Claire Cordon PLLC, led a session on prospective clients. She said that employment law brings potential clients who are very passionate and upset about what has happened to them. The problem is that Washington is an employment at-will state, and “[t]here is no law against mismanagement or having a poor manager,” unless it also happened alongside discrimination or retaliation for a protected activity.
A brief telephone conversation with a potential client is recommended in order to hear his or her side of the story, and determine if there is a legal remedy for his or her concern, before ever inviting one into your office for a consultation.
2) Always ask, “Is there anything else I should know?”
Employment discrimination law is rather nuanced. It makes sense to lawyers who have studied the applicable laws but does not necessarily follow common sense. A potential client may call because she thinks she is being “harassed” by her boss who is being rude to her; however, there is no legal remedy for a rude boss.
That being said, the opposite is true as well. A potential client could tell you what they think is important about their experience, leading you to believe there’s no legal remedy available, until you ask, “Is there anything else I should know?” At that point, she might ask you if a racially charged email she received from her boss is important. Suddenly, the rude boss has entered into discriminating against a protected class and there might be something you can do for her.
3) Check state and local agencies, as well as state and federal court, for the appropriate forum.
Different forums exist for different types of harm in employment discrimination. As you begin to handle employment discrimination cases, it will be necessary to do research into the different agencies before which you could bring your client’s claim. Some examples are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); Washington Human Rights Commission (HRC); Seattle Human Rights Commission; and Washington Department of Labor and Industries (LnI). Furthermore, a claim can be brought in state court and possibly federal court. The protections and remedies in these agencies may differ, so it is important to have a solid understanding of your client’s case before moving forward.
If you’re considering expanding your practice to include employment discrimination law, or simply wanting a firsthand glimpse at what it’s like to practice in this area, this seminar is one you’ll want to watch for in the future. Learn more about WSBA’s NLE seminars and sign up on the NLE webpage.