We are excited to announce that Andrew Dansicker was one of only a handful of Baltimore metropolitan area plaintiff’s employment attorneys recognized last week in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post as a Top Rated Lawyer as chosen by LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell, the company that has long set the standard for attorney peer review ratings. The ratings were published in a special section recognizing those attorneys who have attained AV Preeminent rankings by Martindale-Hubbell. Mr. Dansicker was also quoted in the Baltimore Sun earlier last week in an article about the pending sexual harassment case involving John Leopold.

We frequently represent federal employees, including federal employees working for Social Security, Postal Service, Army, Navy, Homeland Security and other federal agencies, in various EEOC matters, including discrimination, sexual and racial harassment and retaliation. We are happy to report that in the span of a short period of time, we have been able to help several USPS employees who were treated disparately and unfairly. These workers turned to us at a difficult time in their lives, and we were able to provide necessary and long overdue relief. For example, in one case involving pregnancy discrimination, we successfully negotiated for relocation, payment of attorney’s fees, and a significant cash settlement. In another case involving failure to accommodate a disability, we secured the proper accommodation, restoration of leave, and a cash settlement. Importantly, our clients achieved closure and have been able to successfully resume their careers with the Postal Service.

Our firm has represented hundreds of claimants at unemployment appeals over the last several years. While it’s sometimes difficult for a claimant to raise the fee of twice their weekly benefit amount (since most have been denied benefits and remain unemployed), we believe our representation is a critical investment. We can never guarantee a successful outcome, but we have established an excellent track record. Sometimes, a claimant tells us that they will handle the hearing on their own, but will call us if they have to appeal to the board or later, circuit court. This is a bad idea. We occasionally handle such appeals, but they are very difficult, they cost more, and they take a long time to resolve. Most people don’t realize that the lower appeals hearing before a hearing examiner is the last step at which the parties have the absolute right to present evidence. It is therefore imperative that you come fully prepared; that you have an attorney with you who knows the law, knows the procedure, knows what to do and say, and knows the pitfalls to avoid. Don’t make the same mistake so many people do who call us too late – make sure we are there to help you at the lower appeal!

In an earlier blog entry from September of 2010, we reported that when a claimant has misreported his or her wages to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (“DLLR”) while seeking unemployment insurance benefits, it is difficult for us to reverse the decision. Typically, when a claimant fails to accurately report his or her earnings, the DLLR has the right to recoup any benefits paid out as a result of the inaccurate phone or web certification. Consequently, in such cases, the DLLR will issue a finding of fraud, which becomes a part of the claimant’s state record. Such a finding can be troublesome to anyone seeking employment, whether in the public or private sector. We are happy to report that through our involvement in an appeal, the DLLR Board of Appeals recently issued a favorable decision that now often allows us to successfully argue for the removal of fraud. Therefore, if the DLLR is demanding for you to pay back benefits, citing that you have committed fraud, call us to help you.

Sometimes, an employer’s adverse action against a worker has consequences beyond the employer/employee relationship — consequences that can impact one’s profession. For example, we regularly defend nurses before the Maryland Board of Nursing (“MBON”) concerning alleged violations. When a nurse has been counseled or discharged by the employer for a work infraction, the conduct may be reported to MBON. MBON, then, often seeks to investigate the alleged impropriety and can subsequently take action, including suspending or revoking the nurse’s license. This process is slow, taxing, and often stressful since the outcome of the investigation and the impact on the nurse’s license is uncertain. We are often called on to assist navigating through this arduous journey because the nurse realizes the potentially serious outcome. Action against a nurse’s license can severely hamper one’s ability to practice, so it is imperative that you get all the help you can in order to prevail. MBON does a good job advising nurses of their right to counsel, but not everyone heeds their advice, thereby compromising their ability to defend themselves. Make sure you follow MBON’s advice — don’t go it alone — hire us to help you.

We are receiving a large volume of calls from state and federally employees with pressing employment situations. They are workers who are facing serious adverse action — demotions, suspensions, and most frequently, terminations of employment. Our law firm has been quick to respond to these workers’ needs, and we are happy to report that we have established a stellar resolution record.

In some cases, our involvement early on has resulted in immediate reversal of the employer’s action. Sometimes, this can be accomplished by a phone call or a well-crafted letter. For example, we recently assisted a Baltimore County worker employed in the school system who was facing a multi-step demotion, resulting in thousands of dollars in lost income annually. We immediately stepped in and the worker’s position and salary were reinstated.

In other situations, when a phone call or letter do not suffice, we arrange for face-to-face meetings with the employer, sometimes through settlement conferences, and there we are typically able to achieve an outcome that the worker and we believe is desirable and just. In one recent case involving a Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) employee of twenty years, we were successfully able to convince the agency to conditions and terms that the agency disclosed had not previously been agreed to for someone in a similar work position as our client. In a case involving a Baltimore City Department of Social Services (DSS) worker with a most troublesome performance record, we successfully obtained settlement that included monetary compensation and, since the worker had no desire to return to the department, the department’s termination for gross misconduct was converted into a voluntary resignation with a favorable reference — all to make sure the worker’s future employment prospects, whether public or private sector, were not hampered in any way.

So, I often tell our clients that there are three times to try to settle a case. First, before the case even begins, when we send a letter to the employer notifying them that we intend to pursue litigation against the employer if they are not willing to resolve the matter. Second, at the EEOC, either in a mediation or after the EEOC has issued a right to sue letter. Finally, after we have filed a lawsuit, and discovery has been completed and the parties are either preparing for trial or preparing for a summary judgment motion. In the past three months, we have settled nine cases — three settled after discovery was completed and the employer had either lost their summary judgment motions, or were preparing for summary judgment. Three settled at the EEOC, and three settled before we even filed with the EEOC. While some attorneys do not believe in trying to settle cases before litigation, we believe it is up to the client — many of our clients don’t want to wait two to three years for the EEOC to conduct its investigation, and for the litigation process to wind through the courts. They are not interested in striking the jackpot; rather, they just want to be treated fairly and shown respect. And for them, that generally means negotiating the equivalent of a severance agreement as a resolution to their potential discrimination claims. So, if you are in that position, give us a call and we will talk to you about your options and what we can do to assist you.

In the past six months, we have started expanding our employment law practice to represent federal, state and local government employees in administrative hearings, typically terminations, demotions or disciplinary actions, such as suspensions. We successfully represented a client through an internal Social Security Administration administrative appeal concerning serious disciplinary charges relating to alleged sexual harassment of a coworker. We also successfully represented a federal employee with more than 20 years experience who was improperly discharged — he was reinstated, his record was cleared of any wrong-doing, he was transferred to a more desirable location, and his attorneys’ fees and costs were reimbursed. Finally, we have assisted several nurses in investigations before the Maryland Board of Nursing. In one particularly compelling case where very serious charges of sexual misconduct were brought against a nurse that could have resulted in license revocation, we were able to successfully negotiate charges to a reprimand. If you are a teacher, a nurse, an administrator, or any other type of government employee, and you are facing an administrative hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings or with an internal board or panel, give us a call so we can discuss your case.

So, sometimes you take a “little” case on principle, and the outcome turns out to be better than you expect! In April 2009, we filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court to obtain about seven thousand dollars in overtime wages under the Maryland Wage Collection Law that a small construction company failed to pay to our client. In a nutshell, the company required our client to come to the corporate office, pick up his assignments and supplies and tools, and then travel from worksite to worksite, but only paid him for the time he spent working at each worksite. After much delay and several attempts to have the case thrown out of court, we went to trial before Judge Bollinger in September 2010, and in October 2010 he issued an opinion ruling in our favor. Well, it took awhile, but yesterday we received his decision awarding nearly $8,000 in overtime wages to our client, and awarding us more than $18,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs! Now, of course, we have to try to collect the monies, but it still feels like a sweet victory!

We frequently get questions about how to file an appeal of a denial of unemployment benefits, and questions about what we charge to handle such appeals hearings. As for filing an appeal, the most important thing is to file your appeal in a timely manner, and to have proof that you have done so. If you file your appeal by fax, make certain that you have a confirmation page showing that the fax was successfully transmitted. If you file your appeal by mail, make certain you do so by certified mail. We usually advise people to simply write, “I disagree with the decision denying my unemployment benefits, and I would like to file an appeal and have an in-person hearing.” We don’t suggest explaining why you think the initial decision was wrong, because you might say something that can be held against you later in the appeals hearing. Once you get your hearing notice, with the date and time and location of your hearing, call us so we can see if we can assist you.

As for fees, we got a telephone call today from a claimant who read one of our previous blogs and thought that we only charged one and one-half times the weekly benefit to handle an unemployment appeals hearing. That is now incorrect, so we need to clarify that the Maryland legislature changed the fee schedule earlier this year, so our fee is now two times the weekly benefit. Thus, if your weekly unemployment benefit payment is $340, then our fee for handling your unemployment appeals hearing will be $680. We never charge more than 2x your weekly benefit payment.

If you have any questions about the unemployment appeals process, give us a call and we will try to assist you.