As would be expected, the reports of Paula Deen's deposition testimony drew wide spread media attention. USA Today had an article entitled "Paula Deen is Done, experts say." The Food network declined to renew her contract, and she had a tearful appearance on The Today Show. The fallout of Deen's testimony will not be lost on supervisors who are involved in harassment cases. The price for acknowledging statements made at some time not close to the event in question, which could now be viewed unfavorably, will be high or so the supervisors may fear. What will happen to my job? The concern is not new; it has just been reinforced. Employers want and need to know the truth...were there conversations and what was said? The employer's need for honesty is met with the supervisor's concerns over job security. An employer does not want to give a promise of job security to someone who has engaged in harassment and created exposure for the company. Employers will need to continue to do in depth investigations to see if there is evidence corroborating the supervisor's version and if there is anything that undercuts the supervisor's credibility. What has happened to Paula Deen is what every supervisor involved in a harassment case fears will happen to them. For an employer, the recognition of this concern likely means that there will be more blanket denials of any misconduct. It also raises the issue of whether it is in the best interests of the employer and the supervisor to have separate counsel. Having one attorney for both the employer and the supervisor raises the real likelihood of a conflict where the supervisor tells the attorney his version of the story and then requests that it not be shared with the employer. Separate counsel insures that the best interest of the client will come first. Concerns about cooperation can be addressed in a joint defense agreement.
For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist, visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection.
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