You’re Entitled To What?
America is a melting pot of immigrants, and New York City is a prime example of this. On a recent trip there I was given a tour through Central Park by an enthusiastic young man who was born in North Africa, spoke 3 languages, was a college student in international relations, and earned his living and college tuition doing the strenuous job of driving people through the Park in a bicycle cab. He was knowledgeable about the Park’s history and funny and enthusiastic about his job. It was wonderful to meet this young man, who was so happy to be doing a job few Americans would do. And, he didn’t act as if he was entitled to anything. He pointed out the residences of the rich and famous high in the sky in buildings surrounding the Park, worth many millions of dollars. It is interesting to note that the Park was created and landscaped by man, sheep grazed on its flat fields, and its original inhabitants were the poorest in New York City who lived in shanties.
At some point in life, usually at a young age, each of us learns, via our parents, teachers, friends or the police, that we aren’t entitled to do whatever we want and get whatever we want to have. But, that doesn’t stop the human species from trying to get what they want and feel they are entitled to things. Entitlement is a concept shared by all classes of society, although many people feel that it applies only to lower income people who receive some form of government assistance. That is not true. I read the other day that the wealthy have weathered the latest recession best because they didn’t have to rely on their jobs or the equity in their property, which resources make up the majority of an average person’s assets. But, in a survey, most of the wealthy felt they would be even happier if they had over $5 million in assets. I also read about a top executive at a large company who earned $6 million dollars a year, and although he stated that he was in favor of medical care for everyone, and he had family members who are burdened by large medical expenses, he didn’t think it was fair for him to pay more taxes than people who earned less simply because he earned so much. In other words, for most people, enough is never enough.
The same day I met the tour guide I spoke with a potential client who I felt had been discriminated by her employer by not being accommodated when she had a disability. Employment and civil rights clients rarely suffer physical injury in their jobs, but they often suffer what I call “psychic” injuries such as emotional distress, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Usually this is due to mental abuse at the hands of supervisors or co-workers, or the effort involved in just trying to do or keep their jobs, when someone has decided for one reason or another, which may not have anything to do with the person or their work performance, that they have to leave. The trauma of having to leave one’s job can be severe. Yet this trauma must be balanced against the law in most states, which is that an employee serves at the will of their employer, and can be discharged at will, but cannot be discriminated against based on specific civil rights laws.
The potential client suggested that she would like a year’s salary, or $50,000, as a settlement because I felt her employer may have violated a civil rights law. She also said that she didn’t want to return to her job, and that the $50,000 would not be significant to her large and wealthy corporation. I pointed out that in my learned opinion $50,000 is not an insignificant amount, and regardless of whether corporations can afford it, money is not given out by them on a willy-nilly basis. Yet, this is a common issue lawyers face-convincing their clients that simply feeling that they are entitled to money is not enough. Sometimes a long, hard, and expensive battle must be fought and the client may not always prevail, as the legal system has many pitfalls. That is why, many lawyers, including me, include in our fee agreements that clients must accept an offer which I consider to be reasonable, and not an amount they feel they are simply entitled to.