Defense attorneys who successfully defended a private school against sex discrimination claims are now defending themselves against a malpractice claim filed by their former client. The Christ Academy claims its attorneys were “negligent and deceptive in defending the school against gender discrimination and retaliation charges” brought by two former employees.
This legal malpractice suit began to germinate three years ago when Christ Academy fired two female employees within one month. The school replaced the women with men who drew higher salaries. After a four day trial, the jury returned a mixed verdict – finding insufficient evidence to support the gender discrimination claim. It nevertheless awarded $100,000 to one of the former employees for emotional damages associated with the retaliation claim.
Reports indicate that the school’s legal fees of $400,000 far exceeded the limits of their $100,000 employment practices liability insurance policy. A post-trial settlement with the prevailing party included $360,000 in attorneys’ fees. After the insurance company paid out, the school was still short $760,000. Not too happy about that result, they sued their lawyers in an attempt to recover some of their losses.
Despite a substantially successful outcome, the defense attorneys now must answer charges of professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The case of Christ Academy v. Hermes Sargent Bates presents a myriad of risk management lessons for law firms and the clients they represent. Next week, we’ll talk about how things could have turned out differently, if only the school had the proper limit of employment practices liability insurance. Let's hope the law firm has sufficient limits of lawyers professional liability insurance to defend the malpractice claim.
If you have questions about lawyers' professional liability insurance or employment practices liability insurance, please give me a call at (800) 242-7250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Louise M. Paglen, Esq.
Law Office of Mark A Ticer, Wichita Falls Private School Files Legal Malpractice Claims against Dallas Law Firm Hermes Sargent Bates, PR Newswire, June 11, 2013, http://www.sacbee.com/2013/06/11/5487880/wichita-falls-private-school-files.html.
Ann Work, Fired employee sues Christ Academy, Times Record News. June 22, 2011, http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2011/jun/22/fired-employee-sues-christ-academy/.
John Ingle, Mixed discrimination suit verdict, Times Record News, August 17, 2012, http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2012/aug/17/mixed-discrimination-suit-verdict/