July
9th 2008
Pettifoggery, or sweet, sweet revenge?

Posted under: jobs, unhappy endings

The Chronicle’s blog “On Hiring” draws our attention to a news story there (based on a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal) about the dozens of lawsuits by former employees against the University of Nevada, Reno.  Most of the plaintiffs are represented by the same lawyer, Jeff Dickerson.  Is Dickerson engaging in pettifoggery, or is he a crusader against endemic bullying at UNR? 

A commenter over at the Chronicle’s news story provided a handy link to a database that summarizes all of the complaints and their status or outcomes.  There are a number of unlawful termination suits (in particular against the Physics and Economics Departments and the Medical School), first amendment lawsuits, and suits over gender, age, and disability discrimination.  There’s even a lawsuit over a hidden camera!  Yikes.  Many of the lawsuits filed in the early to mid-2000s were settled; some were won, others dismissed or are still on appeal.  Many of the more recently filed cases have been dismissed, while most are still pending.  (This is based on just a brief skim of the summaries, not a systematic investigation–those of you who are lawyers will undoubtedly have better informed opinions about this.)  I don’t think it’s incriminating that one attorney is representing most of the plaintiffs here–Nevada is a very small state, Reno is a small city, and if you had a claim against the University, wouldn’t you want to go with the guy who’s proven his mettle in going up against the U?  Attorneys live or die by word-of-mouth recommendations (or warnings away), so it makes sense to me that plaintiffs would sign up with Dickerson since he’s had some modest success in suing the U.

As regular readers can probably predict, my instincts are to side with the little guy against large institutions, and given the difficulty of proving any discrimination claims or violations of first amendment rights by an employer these days, I’m wondering if we should shine up a chestful of medals for counselor Dickerson.  It’s possible that the guy is a pesky pettifogger–but then, that’s what a guilty university would say, wouldn’t it, when trying to explain to the taxpayers why $1.7 million of its money has gone to fighting and settling these lawsuits?  As many of us know from bitter experience, Universities aren’t always grateful to whistleblowers who let them know where the problems are.  They count on having more time and money to pursue these claims than any individual has, which is why they win so often.

5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Pettifoggery, or sweet, sweet revenge?”

  1. Indyanna on 09 Jul 2008 at 10:28 am #

    If the game is on the line, you want your closer in there, right, not Somebody, Esq., who happens to come up on some rotation list? In any small jurisdiction with a dominant institution (typical of many university towns), there’s probably not a wide range of counsel willing to take on the local top predator, so whoever works that vein will get most of the business. Attacks on the plaintiff’s bar are probably as much pro forma today as predictable motions to dismiss the complaint. As for the “disgruntled former employee” gambit, I’ve always thought that one is a riot. To test the thesis you’d have to compare such suits with a random sample of lawsuits filed against the same defendant by well-gruntled, highly gratified, former employees. And what lawyer is going to take a case from somebody who comes to the office wearing a UNR sweatshirt or who names his/her kids after the Mighty Pioneers, or whatever they’re called? Institutional management teams do tend to get in trouble when it’s revealed (often through freedom of information or state right to know inquiries) that they’ve been paying plaintiffs to go away. Such knowledge might well attract some meritless complaints, but that’s just more discredit to the managers, right?

  2. Historiann on 09 Jul 2008 at 10:45 am #

    Right on. When I consulted an attorney here in Fort Fun, where my institution Baa Ram U. is located, there were only one or two guys who had experience with employment law and BRU.

    In an odd coincidence, the individual whose behavior caused me to seek counsel in Fort Fun is now in the administration at U. Nevada, Reno! Small world, ain’t it? (Fortunately, everything worked out just fine without attorneys, etc.)

  3. mary on 09 Jul 2008 at 2:56 pm #

    All this talk of bullying in the workplace makes me want to abandon Phd plans in favor of a career in employment law!

  4. Historiann on 09 Jul 2008 at 4:38 pm #

    That might be even more depressing, Mary–you’d spend all day long dealing with what happens when people are bullied, and the odds are so stacked in favor of corporations and institutions and against the individual that you might find academia a refuge. I’m just sayin’.

    You *might* get a good job and decent students, like Historiann! (Well, eventually anyway.)

  5. Schadenfreudelicious! Baylor Prez canned Thursday : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 25 Jul 2008 at 9:21 am #

    [...] years as president of the University of Nevada at Reno.”  Hmmm…remember all of those lawsuits by current and former staff and faculty at at UNR I told you about a few weeks ago?  Well, let’s hope he stays good and retired as of [...]

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