United States Supreme Court Expands Anti-Retaliation Law For Civil Rights Claims

On January 24, 2011 the United States Supreme Court issued an important decision that expanded the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VII is the primary guardian of employee rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, and religion.

The case was Thompson v. North American Stainless.  The plaintiff, Eric Thompson, was fired a few weeks after his fiance, who also worked for North American Stainless, filed a civil rights complaint against the company.  Mr. Thompson alleged that North American Stainless fired him to retaliate against his fiance for her civil rights complaint.

The Supreme Court identified two questions that were before it.  First, did Mr. Thompson’s firing constitute unlawful retaliation?  Second, if the firing was illegal, did Mr. Thompson have a claim under Title VII?  The Supreme Court answered “yes” to both questions.

Regarding the first question, the Court noted that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision covers a broad range of retaliatory conduct.  Retaliation can include any action that might dissuade someone from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.  So reprisals against a third party, like a fiance, rather than directly against the employee who makes the civil rights complaint, can be unlawful retaliation depending on the circumstances.

The more important question in Thompson was the second one:  Did Mr. Thompson have a claim under Title VII even though he was not the employee who filed the complaint that led to the retaliation against him?  In answering “yes” to that question, the Supreme Court applied a “zone of interests” test that has the potential to expand Title VII’s anti-retaliation prohibition beyond the employee who filed the initial civil rights complaint.  Employees claiming retaliation must demonstrate that they fall within the zone of interests that Title VII seeks to protect.  Employees will fall outside that zone of interests if their interests are unrelated to or inconsistent with Title VII’s purposes.  Any employee who falls within Title VII’s zone of interests can assert a retaliation claim, even if that employee suffered retaliation because of a civil rights complaint that was brought by someone else.

Erbe Law Firm can help with your employment law claim, including those in which you believe that you suffered retaliation because you or someone you know filed a civil rights complaint.  If you need a Des Moines employment law attorney, contact Erbe Law Firm today.


Insurance Agent Liability

What happens if you pay for insurance, thinking that you have a certain type of coverage, and it turns out that you did not have the coverage that you thought you had?  Can you sue the insurance agent who helped you get the coverage?  It recently became much easier to do so thanks to the Iowa Supreme Court’s December 30, 2010 decision in Langwith v. American National General Insurance Company, which clarified and expanded Iowa law regarding insurance agents’ liability for bad advice.


The Langwith court overruled an earlier decision that allowed negligence claims against insurance agents only if the agent claimed to be an insurance specialist, consultant, or counselor and received compensation for consultation and advice apart from the premiums paid by the insured.  Langwith concluded that such a standard was too narrow and restrictive.  Although those two considerations are useful, other factors in determining whether the insurance agent has assumed a duty to give good advice are the nature and content of any discussions between the client and the agent, any prior dealings between the agent and the client, and the knowledge and sophistication of the client.  The client has the burden of proving that the insurance agent has a duty to render additional services, such as giving advice about coverage, beyond the general duty to simply secure the coverage requested by the client.  Otherwise, the insurance agent has no obligation to advise a client regarding additional coverage or risk management.


Erbe Law Firm can help with your insurance law claim, including those in which you believe that your insurance agent gave you bad advice or failed to secure the coverage that you requested.  If you need a Des Moines insurance law attorney, contact Erbe Law Firm today.

Why It Takes A Long Time To Settle Your Personal Injury Or Wrongful Death Case

Recently, I have had a few frustrating situations in which a case that a client hoped would quickly settle did not.  To calm those clients down and ensure them that all lawyers can run into the delayed-settlement problem when dealing with insurance companies, I looked for a few articles on the internet.  Here is one of the more interesting articles that I came across:

Why Personal Injury Cases Can Take So Long To Reach a Just Settlement

Posted on:5/4/2009
Written By: Chris Robideaux
Website: http://www.napil.net/

In this article, I will attempt to pin down the inherent causes of the anxiety and impatience some people feel when their personal injury case seems to drag on forever, with no clear resolution in site.  Personal injury litigation can sometimes take years, with little hope in sight, at times, of seeing any substantial reward. But that’s no reason to lose hope, as with a little perseverence and the law (and a good personal injury lawyer) on your side, justice isn’ so far-fetched an idea after all.

It’s very common to be upset at your lawyer after your personal injury lawsuit is filed, due to such a long time passing between the time the lawsuit commences and any settlement or trial. In most states, the other party’s insurance company owes you no duty to settle quickly. Your case can be settled before trial, or consequently drag on long after the trial is over. The insurance company knows you’re in a hurry to settle your case, and uses this fact to try to get you to settle for less. Here’s a partial list of some of the things that can happen to slow down your case: Discovery This is the insurance company’s opportunity to “discover” everything about you and the accident. You’ll get lots of written questions to answer under oath. You’ll have to produce documents and medical records, plus admit or deny specific written statements put to you.

You and your lawyer will need to gather up all the medical records, bills and other documentation of your injuries. Some of these must be obtained in a specific way to make them admissible at trial. You’ll likely to be subjected to grilling over the smallest of details. Motion Hearings The insurance company lawyers may have what feels like an endless capacity to file motions and go to hearings on motions. Some of these motions are unimportant to you, but some may be critical to your case. Mediation Many courts are forcing lawyers to mediate or arbitrate cases prior to trial. Some courts won’t even give you a trial date until you do so.

Mediation is typically a settlement conference without the formalities of court. A neutral party will try to help the parties reach a middle ground. It’s not usually “binding” – meaning the parties are stuck with the result – unless the parties reach an agreement and write up a settlement agreement. Arbitration is a different breed altogether. It’s often a binding “mini-trial” of the case in front of an arbitrator, or panel of judges who listen to an informal presentation of the matters involved in your case. Trial If your case doesn’t settle, it must go to trial, where six or twelve strangers will decide what your injury is worth.

Trials are scheduled on the court’s schedule, not the lawyers’ schedule. This means cases sometimes take years to be scheduled for trial, especially in some major urban areas. Having a case that is two or three years old before going to trial is not uncommon. And once you have a trial, your case may not terminate.

There may be an appeal as well as further motions and hearings to deal with. Collection Issues You may experience difficulty collecting from the insurance company or the person responsible for your injury.  The insurance lawyer will have to have a check or draft issued by the company. And before they send you your money, you will be required to sign a release document and file some sort of dismissal motion. Settlements after litigation can be very disappointing after spending years battling in the courts to get what’s rightfully yours. Sometimes it is better to settle before trial for a certain amount, rather than to go through the process and end up with a small settlement or perhaps a bad result at trial.

Personal injury attorneys represent victims of motorcycle and car accidents in an effort to recover fair compensation for their damages.  If you need a Des Moines personal injury or wrongful death lawyer, please contact Erbe Law Firm today.