Suiting Up

Fighting Back

Sometimes it pays to fight back. In one recent case decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a male loan originator for a mortgage company in Indianapolis claimed that the female loan processor he worked with exposed her breasts to him, sat on his desk and made sexual advances at work and over the telephone--all of which she flatly denied. In his sexual harassment lawsuit, he produced a memo supposedly written by their branch manager to another superior acknowledging that the harassment was going on and suggesting that the easiest way to stop the loan originator's complaints would be to get rid of him. The branch manager said she never wrote the memo, although it appeared to bear her signature.

Attorneys for the mortgage company discovered the plaintiff had sued three former employers. In one case, he had produced an employment contract granting him favorable terms, bearing the signature of a company agent who denied ever having seen the document. While evidence of the plaintiff's history of litigation is normally not admissible in a subsequent lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana allowed it in because it suggested the plaintiff's method of operation--suing his employers and forging incriminating documents to introduce as evidence. The district court ruled in favor of the employer, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld its decision.

The company might have been able to avoid the whole problem if it had identified the plaintiff as a chronic suer before offering him a job in the first place. That's the best way to deal with the problem, Karpeles says, because otherwise your only options are spending money to settle the lawsuit or spending money to take it to court. Be careful, though, because federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against a job applicant for having exercised the right to complain to the EEOC or state human rights agencies over alleged discrimination.

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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Suiting Up.

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