Monday, July 26, 2010

Looking out for Number One can get you. . .

Word just came out that the Tennessee Titans are suing Lane Kiffin and the University of Southern California for intentional interference with contract/inducement to breach contract over the hiring this weekend of former Titans coach Kennedy Pola by Southern Cal. The allegations are that Kiffin contacted Pola, knowing he was under contract with the Titans, and discussed potential employment at USC with him. Pola's contract states that he is not to entertain any other employment opportunities without first receiving written permission from the Titans. Kiffin also did not extend a courtesy call to Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, a misstep that infuriated Fisher.

Undoubtedly this isn't the first time that a team has hired a coach away from another team--right? You read about this all the time in sports. Why don't you see more of these lawsuits? Without having the benefit of reading the complaint, we can surmise a few things that apply in most employment settings:

1. Kiffin has not made many friends in the coaching world. Thus, he may not get the same benefit of the doubt that others would be extended if they hadn't followed the contract language to a "T", either. The moral: if you make fast enemies, expect them to likewise act fast when you cross them (i.e., treat people nicely, people!).

2. Kiffin is a USC guy, and Fisher is a USC guy. In other words, Fisher expected better treatment from a member of his "family" than he might otherwise. The moral: relationships matter. If you have a common tie to someone, it can act both as a lifesaver and an anchor (i.e., if you have a good relationship with a fellow HR'er at another organization, think before you poach).

3. Kiffin hired Pola less than a week before training camp is to start for the Titans. The moral: timing is everything--you already knew that. You can make a bad situation so much worse by your timing (i.e., watch those calendars!).

4. Kiffin seems to have thumbed his nose at the Titans and Fisher. After Pola was hired, Fisher let it be known that he was not happy with the way in which Kififn handled the situation. We don't know if Kiffin apologized to Fisher in their phone call, but it doesn't sound like it. Kiffin's statement was that Fisher now had a better understanding of the timeline of events, and that the timing wasn't perfect for "all" parties. In other words, the timing was perfect for USC, and that's all that mattered. The moral: if you can show some respect for the impact on the other party, that goes a long way to diffuse a potentially dynamite-laden situation. If you don't, well, kaboom.

What other lessons do you see from this situation? It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds, and how we can all learn from it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer intern feedback--from all sides

Summer intern programs are a great way to get quality work for a good bargain (see our post about the new DOL regulations on paying interns here). It's also an opportunity to hone your management skills, methods of providing constructive counseling, and test-driving some of your less experienced managers in roles of responsibility. Yes, for all intents and purposes, your summer intern program can be your managerial guinea pig.

When you're sending out calendar invites for the summer interns' exit interviews, don't forget to schedule a time with your own people about the experience. This an opportunity to improve the summer intern experience for the next class, and this is also an opportunity to develop, applaud and, perhaps, correct supervisory tendencies of your employees. You can also use the post-intern feedback to see if having an intern program is right for your company. Just like evaluations, one size does not fit all, and you don't have to do it because everyone else is.

Check out this article from Entrepreneur magazine for more discussion on slotting an intern in your organization.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Just the EEOC?

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of responding to a charge of discrimination filed with an administrative agency like the EEOC. After all, the EEOC doesn’t have the authority to award damages or assess fines against employers. To get any money from the employer, the employee or former employee will have to file a lawsuit, and the employer can just defend the lawsuit when and if it comes. Right? It’s true that the EEOC doesn’t have the authority to award damages or assess fines. But the employer’s response to an EEOC charge is the foundation for the later defense of the lawsuit. What is said, or not said, in response to a charge filed with the EEOC can have a significant impact on the outcome of a lawsuit. A recent decision from the Court of Appeals re-emphasizes this point.

In Jones v. National American University, 8th Cir., No. 09-3007, 6/23/10, the court affirmed a jury verdict in favor of an employee’s age discrimination claim. In that case, the reasons the employer gave for the employee’s termination in response to the EEOC charge were different from the reasons proffered by the employer at trial. The Court held that the different reasons given by the employer at different times was evidence that the employer’s reasons were a mere pretext for age discrimination.

Although this principle does not represent a sea change in the law, it comes on the heels of the EEOC’s announcement that it is hiring more investigators and intends to be more aggressive than it has been in the past 10 years. According to Jacqueline Berrien, the EEOC chair, the EEOC has been bolstered by substantial budget increases in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, and is hiring additional staff, including frontline investigators and lawyers.

In this environment, when employers are more likely to encounter aggressive enforcement from administrative agencies, it is vital to remember the importance of responding appropriately to administrative charges of discrimination as the foundation for the employer’s defense to discrimination claims.