Question: Dear Alan, I would like to find out where I should bring my lawsuit, and your thought regarding “Do I have strong enough ‘case’ to bring a lawsuit?”  

I am an executive working for a U.S. multi-national company with its headquarters in Great Britain. I started my international assignment in 2006 with a post in Shanghai. The employment agreement is with a subsidiary located in Florida. In 2008, I started my assignment in Seoul, South Korea.

I received excellent (above average) annual reviews every year. In April of this year, the CEO gave me a very unexpected unfavorable review for 2010, and indicated that I will be repatriated back to the U.S. when my employment contract ends on June 30th. There is no offer of another job from my present employer, or from any others here in Seoul. The company is terminating my lease in Korea by the end of June. There are evidences that he bullied me in the past year and he is trying to squeeze me out of the company.

Thanks. Regards.  

D.H.
Seoul, South Korea

Answer: Dear D.H.:

Let me try to help:  

1. The chances are very high that your employment contract designates one city in which all lawsuits must be brought. From my experience of almost 30 years, I’d say the odds are 90% that your employment contract designates where any lawsuit must be brought. Look for it in the final five or six sections of your employment agreement; that’s where you’re likely to find it. If it’s there, it is almost surely binding on you.

2. If your employment contract does not designate a particular city, then you can choose where to bring your lawsuit. If you have the choice, you can bring your lawsuit any place you like, provided your employer has “sufficient contacts” with that place. For example, you could bring it where you did the work, or where the company is headquartered, or in another city where the witnesses and documents may reside. Because my office is in New York, I have represented employees in Asia, Africa and Europe in lawsuits against companies headquartered in New York.

The most likely place to bring a suit would be where you worked, Seoul, or where your employer (the subsidiary) is located, that is, Florida, but it is not necessary to sue there. Lawyers would probably also consider such things as the different legal systems, and how long cases generally take to complete in different cities. Many lawyers would also suggest that, if you are from Korea, a Korean jury might just be a bit more sympathetic to you than a London jury may be.

3. From the facts presented to me, I cannot tell if you have a “legal case.” I am not licensed to practice law in South Korea, but from what you’ve described, I can’t tell if (a) your employer violated your contract, or (b) your boss was so bullying to rise to the level of a hostile work environment, or (c) your manager went so far as to commit a “fraud” in your performance appraisal. You really do need to consult with an experienced employment attorney in Seoul, South Korea, as it is that law – unless your employment contract says differently – that would likely apply to what happened to you. That lawyer should review your contract carefully, and interview you comprehensively, to determine if you have a “legal case.”

D.H., I hope this has been helpful to you. You are our first person to submit a question from South Korea. I hope you will come back again when you have questions about employment, and “workplace navigating and negotiating.”

Best,
Al Sklover

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