“I previously sued an employer. How can I explain that on my resume and interview?”

Question: More than ten years ago, I was fired by an employer. I believe it was a truly discriminatory act, I was much aggrieved, and I sued, though I ultimately lost the case.

I was fortunate to have found a second job that lasted seven years before being laid off again. And, too, I am fortunate that my special area of expertise is very much in demand.

I am back on the job market, and it seems that the Court information on the internet is preventing me from getting a new job. Can you offer any help in how to handle this on my resume or on an interview?

Cozad, Nebraska

Answer: Dear Tabatha: It took me a long time to answer your question because it took me a long time to think about it. It’s a tough situation you face. While I don’t know all of your facts and circumstances, I do have some thoughts on the matter to share.

Before I do, though, I want to share with you that I have been an employer for over 30 years, and in that time I have come across job candidates that I knew, one way or another, had sued a former employer. In each instance, it didn’t faze me at all, and in several of those instances I hired the candidate. I just accepted the fact that some “marriages” end in “divorce,” and some divorces require Judges to intervene. And, I also know that many divorced people remarry, and have long-term and happy second (or even third) marriages. While I am not the average hiring manager at a good-sized company, I don’t want you to feel too defensive about your Court matter.

That said, these are the thoughts I have come up with; I hope they are of some help to you, and to others in your situation:

1. The stigma you are facing is probably the Number One reason employees should not rush into Court, but rather first try their best to navigate and negotiate unresolved issues. For a long time now I have come to see the “justice” an employee can get by going to Court to be doubtful, even with the strongest of legal cases. In fact, any lawsuit, including an employment-related lawsuit, can be won but the negatives associated with it might make the effort futile.

Besides the high cost, significant distraction, and long delay of lawsuits, the stigma an employee can face after he or she sues an employer can be quite damaging, long term, and difficult to overcome, as you are seeing. This is not an indictment of our judicial system, but an acceptance of reality: potential cost, distraction, delay and stigma associated with lawsuits cannot be underestimated. Compounding the problem, sadly, many lawyers think and say, “Have a problem? Let’s sue,” without giving careful thought and sufficient creativity to trying negotiation first.

2. First idea: Ever hear of “Fight fire with fire?” Well, perhaps you can “Fight the internet with the internet.” I often think of “Fight fire with fire” when I am stumped by a problem. I say to myself, “Can the problem be the solution to the problem?” and it often is.

In this context, if you can load up the internet with numerous positive entries about you and using your name, you just might (a) make your Court proceedings much harder to find, (b) make your Court proceedings seem like something you don’t often do, and less of a reflection of who you are, and (c) in the process elevate your image and attractiveness as a job candidate to prospective employers.

You can do this in several ways, including by (a) establishing a website with a name like “tabatha.com” and posting articles and interesting thoughts regarding your area of expertise and career on it; (b) submitting interesting articles to trade journals, newspapers, or websites, who may publish it; and (c) writing and submitting notes about yourself in online companies that distribute press releases. The idea is this: if someone “googles” your name, and 25 things about you come up, if the Court matter is number 25, it may never be noticed.

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3. Another way to dispel doubts would be to assemble a “boatload” of strong references from former employers, customers, colleagues, industry and community leaders. If a hiring manager comes across your Court matter in the course of a background check, he or she will likely wonder, “Can I trust this person? Will she end up suing us? Should I take a chance?”

To counteract that concern, you should be extra diligent about acquiring the greatest number of positive reference letters from persons of conviction and influence, like former employers, customers, colleagues, industry and community leaders. If Pope Francis, himself, wrote you a glowing reference letter, chances are your Hiring Manager would be reassured. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but it does serve to illustrate my point.

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4. You might consider looking into trying one of the “online reputation repair” services available on the internet. Quite honestly, I don’t know too much about the industry, but I have heard of people who have used companies who specialize in “online reputation repair,” and have been helped. To my best knowledge, a good part of what they do is to “fight the internet with the internet” as noted above. The difference is that they have a lot of experience doing just that, and are adept at it, although you do have to pay for the service.

5. You might also try to offer a candid explanation in a humble letter accompanying your resume. When perplexed, I sometimes consider confronting problems in the most direct fashion possible, that is, “head on.” You might try to prepare a straightforward, frank and honest letter that addresses the issue “without flinching.” By this I mean a “Dear Hiring Manager” letter that raises important points about your Court matter that might make it more palatable and understandable, to include reasonable and rational explanations for your decision then to go to Court and, perhaps, your different view now. It should not be defensive, but mature and worthy of empathy.

A few examples of explanations might include (a) it only happened once in your entire working career, (b) it was strongly suggested by your attorney, and (c) it is something you would never consider doing again, provided, of course, that these are true.

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6. I want to share with you that I am a strong believer in (a) the power of prayer, (b) the value of positive thinking, and (c) the success many people have using the practice of visualization, in situations like yours. One of my favorite saying is “Magic cannot happen until you believe in it.” You face a difficult hurdle. It requires strength, confidence, inner conviction and serenity. Sometimes these things can seem in short supply. Regardless of your faith, may I suggest appealing to a higher power, the accentuation of all that is positive in your life, and your visualizing receiving and accepting a new and interesting job at a very good level of satisfaction and compensation to you. It is just amazing how much the power of prayer, the value of positive thinking and the success that visualization, can each bring into our lives. In my life, they have worked so very well for, and I know they have for others, too.

Tabatha, there is no question you have an obstacle to getting hired in front of you. That’s not the end of the world, just the beginning of your facing the challenge. There is not a challenge in the world that cannot be overcome, given the will and determination to do so. I do hope you will be determined to overcome this obstacle, proactive in doing so, and persistent in not stopping until you are rehired.

I hope this is helpful, Tabatha, and that you are successful in your efforts. You’ve got my support, and I will mention you in my prayers this evening!

My Best,
Al Sklover 

P.S.: Want to learn more about workplace negotiating? Consider viewing our Sklover On Demand Video entitled “Interviewing – Your Three Objectives.” Just sit back, relax, watch and listen. To do so, just [click here.]


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