Symptomatic Redress vs. Systemic Change: Are we chasing the devil or the prize?

The Challenge
We have more laws on the books than ever and thus the inference is we’ve expanded workers’ rights. But, is this enough? Maybe it’s time for a multi-disciplinary approach, to change the paradigm, as we seek to have these laws enforced. To many, we are treating the symptoms rather than curing the disease. It’s been my experience that both management and employees are concerned about the same things: 1) the employee’s ability to do a job, 2) access to resources needed to do the job, and 3) adequate, equitable measurements and reward for doing a good job. Yet, the manner by which these translate into the workplace is very different, and in response to these differences, litigation has become the mechanism for resolution.
The top reasons for employment lawsuits have more to do with a lack of communication and lack of training than with the law. Some of these include: unfair or unsubstantiated discipline, suspicious timing, and slow or whitewashed internal investigations.
Yet, a lack of accommodations, violation of leave, wage and hour laws are heavily in the midst! There is more confusion than ever around accommodations, compensation and leave issues, which are at the very core of an employer-employee relationship. Integrated workspaces, changing demographics, global competition, baby boomers and millennials present some of the greatest challenges in today’s workplace. And, a growing number of employees seek leave under the FMLA for purposes of taking care of veteran and elderly family members. Additionally, at some point in their life, over 75% of working women in the US will become pregnant. I can recall about 25 years ago, a select few began to seek employee feedback, offered flex time, lactation rooms, child care subsidies and onsite centers. This was the advent of the “work-life balance” movement. Consequently, most of these companies recognized tangible and intangible benefits from their customer base with a higher level of employee loyalty, engagement and profitability.

A Movement is Needed
Today, such a movement is needed. I could provide you with a laundry list of answers to five of the most commonly asked questions including such questions as do you have to share an employee’s personnel file with them? Or, can you change an employee’s shift? But, I prefer to use this space to discuss a larger more global issue, and that is working towards a balanced employee-employer approach that fosters a collaborative versus an enterprise risk management model. Recruiting, turnover and lawsuits are costing both the employer and the employee more than ever. This year alone, major administrative and Supreme Court decisions addressed LGBT rights, same-sex benefits, pregnancy accommodations, dress/appearance and religious policies, wage and hour standards, and compliance with the Affordable Health Care Act. Yet, FMLA and retaliation lawsuits are at an all time high. And not surprisingly, the EEOC reports retaliation as the most common issue alleged and the most common discrimination finding. Studies now show that threat and punishment are the least effective forms of social change and do not result in long-lasting improvement.

An Optimal Solution
The measurement of human capital and outcomes is critical to the bottom line. Some companies are getting it, and some are not. Lowering the bottom line and reporting a human capital line item to investors and shareholders are necessary and encompass a critical metric that correlates with lawsuits, employee engagement and overall profitability. So, what does mean, and what does this have to do with us as lawyers? There is an increasing blur between where HR ends and employment lawyers begin. This presents both overlap and opportunity. In a nutshell, a multi-disciplinary approach that effectively integrates employment law with best practices for human resources into a business model will more fully address the challenges of today.
Tying human resources and employment law into the overall corporate strategic plan, and having an employee rights advocate along with litigation support are needed. This used to be the role of HR, but that is no longer the case. To stimulate and effectuate real change in the workplace, one can no longer afford to focus solely on the employer’s rights, but there has to be a balance of employer rights and employee rights. Applying the law in an agile way and not a perfunctory manner by those who are entrusted to carry out the practices – management, owners and employees, when properly executed will lead not to just improved profitability, but sustainable profitability, increased productivity, retention and a reduction of lawsuits. Systemic change can only come through revolutionary ideas, for which we can play a role in developing. In the rare instances where I happen to be fortunate enough to assist clients with retaining their jobs, or developing an exit strategy, it is clear to me, they almost always prefer to have the option of keeping their job long-term or transferring from a bad environment/manager. But, by the time they get to a lawyer, this is seldom a viable option. Many employees not only need legal representation, but direction and knowledge of their rights and responsibilities. Generally speaking, this doesn’t exist outside of the legal realm. And when I have had the opportunity to speak with management (in a non-adversarial environment), almost always, they would have preferred to have avoided litigation, but see it as a necessary evil with their option of settling as a means to reduce litigation costs. The opportunity exists for us to help shape and implement new workplace strategies that would educate and inform employees and potentially eliminate litigation costs by changing the work environment.

The Call to Action
This requires the changing of mindsets, office politics and corporate cultures. So, at the end of the lawsuit, are lawyers just preparing for the next one, or can they influence their corporate clients to re-evaluate workplace strategies that go much deeper than annual anti-discrimination training? Can plaintiffs’ lawyers work more closely with employees and communities or offer companies an advocacy role for its employees in advance of litigation rather than representing them only in litigation? Is this too revolutionary? The legal landscape is changing, and so exploring innovative ways to add value while leading to systemic change in the workplace will be crucial in the not so distant future. This drives sustainable profitability for companies, job retention and satisfaction for employees, job security and true fulfillment in what employment lawyers do, make a sustainable difference while advancing workplace rights.
Employment outcomes impact so much more than having a job, but one’s employment often dictates access to resources, including health care and housing. For more information on ways individuals and employees can learn more about their rights, go to Maybe it’s time we re-evaluate the strategy, stop chasing the devil and start chasing the prize.

The author: Bartina L. Edwards is based in Charlotte, NC, where she practices employment law and business law in The Law Office of Bartina Edwards. She has a corporate background  and represents the plaintiff in employment actions. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor at the N.C. Central University School of Law where she teaches employment law. (

Following the Money Sometimes Misses the Point

My partners, David Rudolf and Chris Fialko, recently settled a civil rights suit that resulted in an impressive financial outcome for their client.  But beneath the flashy lights of money is a story that is rarely discussed in the aftermath of settlement:  the heartache, the uncertainty and ultimately, the massive relief at the end of a long and painful journey.We are almost numb to this narrative:  our civil rights plaintiff served 11 years in prison for a crime – murder – that he did not commit.  Incarcerated after several codefendants were coerced into falsely confessing to the crime and falsely implicating our client as well, there was also suppression and destruction of exculpatory evidence.

The devastatingly familiar narrative is true.  Our client was sent to prison in October, 2000 after false confessions, a fabricated identification and the disappearance of exculpatory evidence piled up against him and he entered a guilty plea to avoid life imprisonment or the death penalty.  After a two-week trial by a three judge panel of the North Carolina Innocence Commission in September 2011, he was declared innocent.  Last month, more than two years after filing suit in federal court, our client won significant compensation through a settlement among the parties.

More than two years after filing suit.  What happens over that course of time?  How does a person who has spent a decade in prison manage to get his life on track while he waits and waits and waits for what he hopes is a positive outcome?  How does he grapple with knowing that “the system” wronged him so deeply and at times so brazenly, yet be forced to wait for lawyers to file, depose, respond, mediate and strategize?

The facts in the case were meticulously detailed in the complaint.  Had a jury been empaneled, would they have been outraged that the elected Sheriff coerced a confession out of a 16-year-old boy with a history of mental illness?  Would the jurors have been appalled had they learned that that same Sheriff is now serving federal time for extortion?  How would a group of twelve react to learning that critical portions of an exculpatory videotape were erased?  Or that DNA that would have exonerated our client was never gathered – despite a court order to do so?  Those facts never made their way to a jury, but they ultimately made their way to county commissioners and insurance companies who decided that keeping the case out of the courtroom was a better outcome than having the facts aired publicly.

Our client managed to make it through to settlement without compromising any dignity.  He fought fear and uncertainty as the case slowly navigated its way to resolution.  Through the help of a program that lends non-recourse funds to plaintiffs based on the strength of their cases, our client secured a loan to help him with living expenses so he did not have to settle cheap, which was the defendants’ goal.  He also has a supportive family.  But the toll that two years of waiting took was significant.  The sense of loss from being wrongfully convicted – loss of dignity, trust and self-worth – was then compounded by a sense of despair that those who wronged him in the first place were fighting tooth and nail to make him go away for as little money as possible.  And while the result has put our client in a healthy financial position, the pain along the way is the real story.  It is not flashy.  It is not a gripping headline.  But it is the reality of our system that people who are wronged have an arduous, gut-wrenching, seemingly interminable road to resolution.

Blog author Sonya Pfeiffer practices law at Rudolf Widenhouse & Fialko. For more than 30 years, the lawyers of Rudolf Widenhouse & Fialko have built a regional and national reputation for excellence in criminal defense and complex civil litigation in both federal and state courts. Consistently ranked as one of the top law firms in the country, the firm prides itself on dedication to its clients; thorough preparation; and ethical, effective, and fearless advocacy. For more information, visit

Another way to protect yourself and your family while in the car: Underinsured Motorist Insurance

North Carolina motorists are required to buy automobile liability insurance with limits of only $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident to protect others from their carelessness. Because it’s all that is required, that’s all most people have. That means that most drivers on our highways have policies that will pay, at most, $30,000 for each person injured by that driver’s carelessness, and no matter how many people are injured, the most that the driver’s insurance company will pay is a total of $60,000. If you have been to the doctor’s office or the hospital you know how expensive modern medicine is, and it’s easy to understand that $30,000 is not a lot of money, medically speaking. Moreover, people injured in automobile collisions may be out of work and have lost wages and other expenses. It is easy to see that the insurance required in North Carolina can be woefully inadequate to compensate those injured by inattentive drivers. Fortunately, there is a way motorists can protect themselves from careless drivers who have only minimum limits policies. It’s called Underinsured Motorist (UIM) coverage.

UIM is insurance you purchase. It pays you if you are injured by another driver when that driver does not have enough liability insurance to compensate you for your injuries. UIM coverage is purchased through your insurance agent along with your insurance policy. North Carolina law requires insurers to provide UIM to drivers who purchase policies with liability limits greater than the minimum limits of $30,000 per person/$60,000 per accident. So, if you buy an auto policy with liability limits of $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident, for example, you automatically will receive UIM coverage in the same amount.

On its face this makes no sense – the accident wasn’t your fault, why should your own insurance company have to pay? Well, this is the world we live in! One of the hardest parts of my job is telling a client that the at-fault driver did not have enough insurance to pay the bills and the client has no UIM coverage to cover the shortfall. The only prudent way for drivers to protect their families is to purchase UIM insurance – and lots of it. I recommend everyone get the maximum, $1,000,000 per person/$1,000,000 per accident. And as far as insurance goes, UIM is quite inexpensive.

Don’t wait to be injured by a driver with a small insurance policy. Talk to your insurance agent about UIM coverage today.

Oxner Permar + Richardson PLLC, a law firm with offices in North and South Carolina, practices Personal Injury, including automobile and trucking accidents, Workers’ Compensation, Multidistrict Litigation, and Social Security Disability law. The firm includes a number of attorneys who are members of the Million Dollar Advocate Forum, a prestigious group comprised of fewer than 1% of all lawyers. Call 1-800-319-900 or visit to speak with an attorney today. 

DWI – Limited Driving Privileges

“I was convicted or pleaded guilty to a charge of Driving While Impaired (DWI) in North Carolina, am I eligible for a driving privilege?”   The Answer: “It Depends.”

Eligibility for limited driving privileges depends on a myriad of factors.  The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles regulates the issuance, revocation, and suspension of North Carolina Drivers’ Licenses.  However, the North Carolina Legislature authorizes judicial discretion to issue Limited Driving Privileges. This post specifically addresses basic, post-trial Limited Driving Privileges (LDP) for Impaired Driving.

At the outset, to generally be eligible for a Limited Driving Privilege after a DWI conviction, you must be sentenced at a Level Three, Four, or Five, under G.S. 20-179, and not be deemed a ‘Refusal’.  A person is deemed a refusal when they willfully refuse to submit to a chemical analysis.  Additionally, the following conditions must be satisfied pursuant to the statute:

  • The person was revoked only under G.S. 20-17(a)(2).
  • At time of the offense, the person held a valid license or a license that had been expired less than one (1) year.
  • The person was not convicted of an offense involving impaired driving within the preceding seven (7) years.
  • Subsequent to the offense, the person was not convicted or does not have any unresolved charges pending against them involving impaired driving.
  • The person obtained and filed a substance abuse assessment.
  • The person has filed proof of financial responsibility (i.e. DL-123/proof of insurance).

As the name implies, a Limited Driving Privilege is just that, limited.  The Privilege authorizes the person to drive for the following limited purposes during their respective revocation period:

  • Work or Education;
  • Maintenance of Household;
  • Community Service; and
  • Alcohol/Drug treatment pursuant to the substance abuse assessment.

NOTE: Limited Driving Privileges are typically authorized for Standard working hours, specifically 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Judges may authorize a limited driving privilege for nonstandard hours with supplemental documentation.

As aforementioned, this post provides a general overview of basic limited driving privilege eligibility.  There are nuanced circumstances for limited privilege eligibility for cases involving a driver under the age of twenty-one (21), ignition interlock drivers, refusal drivers, and drivers with out of state convictions.  Any Driving While Impaired case is complex and rife with intricacies.  Please make sure your rights are protected and advocated by an experienced DWI attorney.

Blog author Michael Haigler practices in Charlotte, North Carolina at Dummit Fradin. Mr. Haigler was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Mr. Haigler represents clients in the following areas of law: Criminal Defense, DWI, Traffic Law, Family Law, and Civil Litigation.  Dummit Fradin has offices throughout North Carolina. If you or someone you know, need legal assistance, contact Dummit Fradin at (704) 319-7200.  For additional information, please visit

How do I apply for Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers many different ways to file your application:

  • You may file an online application by visiting
  • You may go into your local SSA Field Office and apply in-person.
  • You may call 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and apply by telephone.

Whichever method you choose, it‘s important to have the following information at hand as it will make completing your application much easier:

Information about you:

  • Your full legal name (as it appears on your Social Security card)
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your date of birth and place of birth
  • The name, Social Security number, and date of birth or age of your current spouse and any former spouse(s) as well as the dates and places of marriage and/or dates of divorce
  • Names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of your minor children
  • Your bank account number and routing information (for direct deposit of benefits)
  • The name and contact information of a reliable person who knows about your medical condition(s) and can answer questions about your health and functioning

Information about your medical condition:

  • Detailed information about your medical impairment(s), injuries, or conditions (exact names of medical conditions, treatments and impairments, complicating factors, etc.)
  • Contact information about your medical providers, and dates you saw them
  • The names and dosages of the medications you are currently taking
  • Information about any medical tests you have had, such as where you had them done and which doctor ordered them

Information about your jobs:

  • A list of all the jobs that you have had in the 15 years before you became unable to work, the dates you worked at those jobs, and the amount of money you earned per hour/pay period/year in each job
  • Information about any workers’ compensation claims, black lung claims, short/long-term disability claims, VA service connected disability claims, or any other benefit claims that you have filed or intend to file

Documents you may need to provide:

  • Original or certified copy of your birth certificate
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence
  • S. military discharge papers
  • W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns for the most recent 1 to 2 years
  • Marriage certificates and/or divorce decrees

Blog author Frederick W. Fleming is a North Carolina Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability. He practices at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, which has offices throughout the state of North Carolina, focusing on Personal Injury, Workers’ Compensation, Social Security Disability, Products Liability, and Eminent Domain claims. For more information, visit:

Someone stole my identity! How do I get the fraudulent accounts off my credit report?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (known as “FCRA”) requires that consumer reporting agencies, or “CRAs,” block from your files any information resulting from identity theft.  This includes fraudulent accounts, false names, false addresses, and the like.  To get a fraud block in place, you must send the CRA documentation.  Your documents must include (1) proof of identity; (2) an “identity theft report”; (3) a list of the fraudulent information; and (4) a statement that the fraudulent information does not relate to any transaction of yours.

Proof of identity ideally includes your full name, full Social Security Number, date of birth, and full current address.  Copies of a driver’s license, Social Security card, and current utility bill in your name should, all together, be adequate.  If you have changed addresses recently, also provide proof of the recent prior address.

To obtain an “identity theft report,” report the identity theft to police.  Give them a list of the fraudulent accounts and request an investigation.  The resultant police report listing the accounts will likely suffice as an “identity theft report.”

Sign an identity theft affidavit that lists the fraudulent information that needs to be blocked.  In the affidavit, you should also state that the information is unrelated to your transactions.  The FTC publishes a form affidavit that you can use:

Now, write a cover letter requesting a fraud block. Send it and your documents to each CRA that is reporting fraudulent information.  Use Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, and keep copies of what you sent!  The CRA must block identified information within four business days.  If it declines your request, it must tell you why within five business days.  In that event, contact a consumer lawyer for additional advice specific to your situation.

Blog author Suzanne Begnoche practices in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and represents consumers with issues in the following areas of law:  Collection harassment; Credit reporting; Identity theft or other financial fraud; Security breach; Debt collection lawsuit and  Post-judgment exemption processes.  For more information, visit

I Was Injured, Received Medical Treatment For My Injuries and Filed The Bills With My Health Insurance. Later, I Received A Questionnaire From My Health Insurance Carrier: Should I Fill It Out and Why?

The short answer is “yes.”  Perhaps more important is for you to understand why you should fill it out.  You should fill out a questionnaire and return it to your health insurance carrier according to their instructions and in a timely manner because 1) you probably have an obligation to do so (either by contract or by law); and 2) your failure to do so could result in your health insurance company’s refusal to pay some of your medical bills.

 Why are they asking me all of these questions anyway?  Great question, but a full and complete answer could be the subject of an entire hard-bound book.  Instead, let me try to break it down into two main reasons.  First, your health insurance carrier is probably trying to identify whether there are other parties or types of insurance that may apply to, or be responsible for, payment of the medical expenses related to your injury.  For example, the questionnaire likely has a question about whether you were “on the job” when you were injured.  If you were on the job when you were injured then it is possible that workers compensation insurance may be obligated to pay for the medical treatment necessary to treat your injury.  Another example is that the questionnaire might ask you whether you were involved in an automobile collision and, if so, the names of the other drivers involved and the identity of the company providing automobile liability insurance company for each vehicle.  This scenario brings us to the second main reason why health insurers send out questionnaires about medical treatment received for injuries: certain types of health insurance plans may be entitled to reimbursement for the money they pay for your medical expenses for injuries caused by the negligence of a third party.  Health plans established pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (sometimes referred to as ERISA plans) may be entitled to be reimbursed from funds that you recover from a settlement or a lawsuit against the negligent third-party.  Other health insurers may also be entitled to reimbursement, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or the NC State Health Plan.

For the reasons discussed above, your health insurance company treats the questionnaire, and the information it seeks to get from you through the questionnaire, very seriously.  It may play a role in their decision whether to pay some or all of your medical bills.  If you fail to provide the information to your health insurance carrier in a timely manner, your health insurance carrier may have the ability to deny payment of your medical bills.  This could leave you responsible for the payment of hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

So, if you were recently injured and sought medical treatment and then later received a questionnaire from your health insurance carrier, you should fill it out and send it back to them according to the instructions stated along with the questionnaire in a timely manner.  Of course, if you are represented by an attorney with regard to your injuries, you should notify him or her that you have received the questionnaire.  If you have specific questions about the questionnaire, you should seek the advice of counsel.

Blog Author Ann Ochsner practices law at the Whitley Law Firm. When you have been injured, there are laws that protect your rights and interests. The Whitley Law Firm in North Carolina has a great respect and concern for the law, for the concepts of fairness and justice, and for their seriously injured clients.  They have offices in Charlotte, Raleigh, New Bern, Jacksonville, Kinston, and Greenville and represent clients throughout the entire state in all types of civil matters, including personal injury cases (auto accidents, slip and fall injuries, motorcycle accidents, dog bites), workers’ compensation matters (workplace accidents and injuries) and social security cases. For more information, visit or call 1-800-598-0456.