Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Death of Courtesy

Two recent articles highlight the decline in professional courtesy; both from employee to employer and between lawyers. The front page of the February 2009 Public Safety Labor News highlights a free speech case that arose from a lack of professional courtesy between peace officers.

In 2006, Peter Dahl worked as a deputy sheriff in Minnesota an emailed the Sheriff about a purchase request. The Sheriff responded with a message that ended by stating that Mr. Dahl "dragged us into your mismanaged personal affairs and I am getting real tired of it." Mr. Dahl responded stating the the email was another email with a "hostile and condescending tone," and that he was not going to respond in kind to remain "professionally objective." The communication between the two escalated to an altercation in the Sheriff's Office resulting in Mr. Dahl taking medical leave. See the Feb. 09 Issue of the Journal of Police and Firefighter Labor Relations for a more detailed summary of the case.

While on leave, Mr. Dahl was terminated: when he sued he argued, inter alia, that his termination was in retaliation for his communications with the Sheriff about morale--which were constitutionally protected as free speech. Dahl v. Rice Co. Minn., 2008 WL 5382333 (D.Minn. 2008). While Mr. Dahl's free speech claims were ultimately dismissed, it is clear the lawsuit (and the termination) would have been avoided in the first place if both parties had actually remained professional objective and courteous. It is clear that, in fact, much litigation could be resolved--or even avoided in the first place--if more employers and employees remained professional and courteous regardless of the circumstances.

Another interesting viewpoint, as well as the title of my posting, comes from Michael Meister's article in the March 2009 volume of the Nebraska Lawyer. Mr. Meister passes on advice he received in the past that the role of lawyers should be to help others resolve differences--not escalate them. In fact, he posits that only when a clear impasse is reached should opposing counsel "gird our loins for battle." I would suggest that this advice should apply not only to lawyers in lawsuits, but to employers and employees

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