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back to article Harassed Oracle employee wins case, cops huge legal bill

Rebecca Richardson, the former Oracle employee who recently won a case against the company over sexual harassment committed by a former colleague, found out late last week that it was a pyrrhic victory after being hit with a monster legal bill. Richardson's case against Oracle, which was liable for the actions of a harassing …

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Anonymous Coward

Same law is in the UK.

You takes your chances..........

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You takes your chances..........

Yes, but she won.

Had she lost, would Oracle have to pick up the bill?

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Re: You takes your chances..........

Also, the perverse Australian legislation means that they offer $1 or similarly non-covering amount perhaps not taking the piss as much, you reject, then it's hard to get awarded greater costs afterwards?

Seriously, how can she have a bill of $224k but be awarded costs of $18k and have to pay Oracle's bill when they lost? That is one seriously f*cked up piece of legislation right there. In my opinion what this wanker of a judge is saying is "fuck you, don't sue". Totally nuts.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You takes your chances..........

suggest you read it again, costs are NOT what the $18k is for

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Holmes

Re: You takes your chances..........

The law sounds fair enough to me. If someone takes you to court but you then offer to settle out of court, then if that offer is rejected, and then if the court awards an amount lower than the settlement offer, why should you have to pay the the costs of the court case? You already made a fair offer which would have avoided those costs had the offer been accepted. If you had to pay the costs no matter what, then anyone and everyone would be prey for vexatious litigants. Of course, if the court awards more than the offer, it is clear that costs can be payable, as is provided for in law.

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Re: You takes your chances..........

Oh my god, are you that naive? Settling out of court is there precisely in order to not admit culpability. It's what corporations do in the US all the time. Taking them to court is, in part, about getting them to be found culpable. A blot on the copybook for future cases.That you should be left out of pocket after winning merely cements the "justice for the rich only" image of the legal system. In local parlance, get a clue.

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Pint

Re: You takes your chances..........

@Mark, let's say you bump my elbow and spill my pint down the pub. You admit it was your fault and offer to buy me a replacement pint. I turn this offer down, and get Carter-Fuck solicitors to sue you, dragging you through the courts. The court then awards me the price of my pint. Are you saying that you should also be liable for my legal costs?

These are civil cases, not criminal cases. There's a big difference. They have admitted 'culpability' simply by offering to settle.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You takes your chances..........

If oracle had offered $AUD17,999 then they would have had to pick up the bill.

The key point is that she rejected a larger offer.

The bill for $AUD224k is the bill for her lawyers. Lawyers don't work for nothing and Oracle actually paid a large chunk of her legal bills. They paid up until she rejected their offer of $AUS85,000.

The courts look at it this way. If a company makes a reasonable settlement offer then you are liable for all costs of both the company and yourself if you reject it. A reasonable offer is one which is more than what the court ends up awarding. Why should Oracle suffer the costs run up after a reasonable offer was made and rejected?

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WTF??

"she will remain solely responsible for the payment of the bulk of her own legal costs and obliged to pay a high proportion of the legal costs of the respondents. "

So not only does she have to pay all her own legal bills, but she has to pay some of Oracle's costs as well? That is TOTALLY f***ed up, Australia!

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Re: You takes your chances..........

Symon, we're not talking about a pint here and that does make a difference. I'm not for people getting fired over a bad joke, but sexual harassment is a somewhat different issue than a couple $ of beer. Also, you're forgetting (not reading carefully?) what others (Mark) are writing. The settlement out of court means the company remains free of any guilt in the matter in the eye of the law. Again, that's okay for an accidentally spilled pint, not for sexual harassment.

And if you did something and you want to do right by the person you've wronged, then admit to the court straight-up and you'll keep the legal fees to a bare minimum. If, on the other hand, you're guilty and you abused your financial and legal resources to drag the person you've already wronged and the state into a prolonged and expensive court case, that should count against you, not the other person.

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Re: You takes your chances..........

@E_Nigma.

With respect, I believe the point you and others in this forum are missing is that no crime has been committed in the case mentioned in the article. This is a civil case. The plaintiff is seeking redress, not punishment. Of course, I agree that the 'pint' example was a reductio ad absurdum to illustrate the point of law. I did not mean to trivialise the sexual harassment aspect of this case, although, again, there was no crime here...

According to William Geldart, Introduction to English Law 146 (D.C.M. Yardley ed., 9th ed. 1984),

"The difference between civil law and criminal law turns on the difference between two different objects which law seeks to pursue - redress or punishment. The object of civil law is the redress of wrongs by compelling compensation or restitution: the wrongdoer is not punished; he only suffers so much harm as is necessary to make good the wrong he has done. The person who has suffered gets a definite benefit from the law, or at least he avoids a loss. On the other hand, in the case of crimes, the main object of the law is to punish the wrongdoer; to give him and others a strong inducement not to commit same or similar crimes, to reform him if possible and perhaps to satisfy the public sense that wrongdoing ought to meet with retribution.”

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Re: WTF??

"she will remain solely responsible for the payment of the bulk of her own legal costs and obliged to pay a high proportion of the legal costs of the respondents. "

If you read that as; "she will be obliged to pay a high proportion of the legal costs of the respondents which would not have been incurred had she accepted the settlement offered which were greater than the court ultimately decided she deserved to get " you might she why she is responsible for those costs from a legal perspective.

How she came to rack-up $200K+ costs on a claim which was worthy of only $18K compensation is a good question but that is not the court's problem nor the defendant's. That she was out of pocket even when the $85K was offered is unfortunate but she chose which way to go; take that or risk losing even more. Given the costs were so disproportionate to the compensation ( even if it had been $85K or greater ) I would be surprised if the court had ordered Oracle to pay her costs in full.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You takes your chances..........

"The object of civil law is the redress of wrongs by compelling compensation or restitution: the wrongdoer is not punished; he only suffers so much harm as is necessary to make good the wrong he has done. The person who has suffered gets a definite benefit from the law, or at least he avoids a loss." - even by that definition, this case is wrong as the woman is clearly the person who has suffered, yet still incurred a loss. The wrongdoer here does not seem to have had any loss (or punishment).

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WTF?

Re: You takes your chances..........

@Symon

In the UK that could be tricky, since the circumstances of bumping the elbow would be taken into account. Given that presumably, the spilling of the pint is a sub-effect of bumping your elbow and the intention.

Criminal legislation in the UK does somewhat cover this, such as the protection from harassment act / equality act and other legislation may touch upon it (for instance in the computer world, communications act / misuse of computers act / data protection act)

The likelyness is, they would plead not guilty in court, normally, just to bump the cost in a typical 'victory for the victor' duel, which actually then makes it economically unviable from the offset for the average joe that may have to pay for rectification of the matter also (e.g. mental health).

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Re: You takes your chances..........

And not only was there no crime here - but the not-crime wasn't committed by Oracle.

So it's more like someone spilling your point - your lawyers deciding that the person hasn't enough money to be worth suing and so suing Carlsberg, because they have $billions, for not doing enough to prevent pint spilling.

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Re: You takes your chances..........

But the purpose of civil litigation is not to blot anybody's anything, it's to put right a wrong that has happened to you specifically. So if the defendant offers to put things right for you then it's job done and continuing with the case is wasting everyone's time. I think we can all agree that the best civil lawsuit is the one that never happens. One way that judges can reduce the amount of litigation is to ask whether a reasonable offer to settle has been made. If it was, then the court's time has been tied up with an issue that has already been solved.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You takes your chances..........

Because usually the offer to settle out of court is on a "no admission of liability" basis. I find that immoral, and would prefer to see them lose in court, even if it resulted in lesser damages. As to the issue of costs, because the out-of-court offer with it's non-admission of fault was not the same as a verdict of the court, which carries with it an attribution of fault, comparing monetary amounts is like comparing apples and oranges.

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Re: WTF??

@Jason Bloomberg - I get the analysis, and in this particular case this makes sense especially as compensation awarded was about 1/4 of the settlement.

But on a more general case, this leaves complainants too much at the mercy of a court's whim - say I declined 50k compensation, the court can rule in my favour and award me 51k (in which case I don't have to pay any fees), or else can award me 49k (in which case I need to pay all my legal fees plus some of the defendants', leaving me majorly out of pocket). The way the law is designed, it encourages complainants to accept any small settlement because going to court is too much of a gamble.

In this specific case, one has to wonder how come a quarter of a million dollars worth of legal counsel did not warn the woman of the likelihood of this happening. Or perhaps they warned her and she went ahead anyway against their advice?

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Re: You takes your chances..........

"the offer to settle out of court is on a "no admission of liability" basis. I find that immoral"

Agree with this, one of the great things of western court systems is that things are public. Gagging orders on settlements pervert this

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Re: You takes your chances..........

Perfect analogy.. I knew about this point of law, but now I GET it :)

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Meh

Re: You takes your chances..........

Okay, that clarifies a lot. I still find it a little weird that this kind of a case ended up as a civil lawsuit, which effectively degrades the issue to the same level of triviality as a spilled pint or a damaged fence, but it is what it is. Her lawyer ought to have warned her about the financial outcome, though.

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Did she want to make a point, was it a matter of principle to have her day and win in court rather than settle. Or was it bad advice from her lawyers acting on a no win no fee basis who were greedy?

What the hell, take the lawyers to court....

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Devil

Re: principle

"A principle is not a principle until it has cost you money" - as she has just found out. Harsh lesson to learn, though.

Spawn of Satan icon for the lawyers. Well, why not?

GJC

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Joke

Wouldn't one need a lawyer/barrister for that also?

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Pirate

Not necessarily.

I have successfully sued a firm of lawyers over an unpaid invoice, without using a lawyer. I was, I confess, rather nervous...

GJC

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Surely if her legal council had advised her not to settle and to pursue the matter then that is bad advice and she could have a case to claim they have failed in discharging their responsibility to provide sound advice and not pay them? Although given that they're lawyers there's probably a clause indemnifying them.

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Uhh...

Can any legal eagles explain why the successful plaintiff has to pay a substantial (or even any) proportion of the defendant's costs?

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Re: Uhh...

Well yes, it seems that they want to encourage people to settle rather than take up the court's time, thought the sledgehammer of substantial financial punishment for not making that decision, as we've seen here.

But I'm more interested in the motivation of whoever wrote the (seemingly ridiculous, on the face of it) clause in law that led to this.

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FAIL

Re: Uhh... @Sorry

What you mean the insane compensation culture free for all created under the current UK legislation is actually better?

Where insurance and product costs are driven through the roof by claims pursued by lawyers soley on the basis of their compensation cut - regardless of the actual harm in the case?

Its all very well to have a potential for financial redress for various events - when no consideration is made for where the money comes from. - Ultimately the ordinary consumer one way or another either in higher product prices, higher taxes or higher insurance costs.

In this case - the judge/jury obviously agreed that the lady in question had been discriminated - however suffered minimal harm as a result - given the paltry payout.

Now she will probably have to declare bankrupcy as a result of owing her lawyers such a rediculous amount - and may have far worse employment prospects - plus effectively not get any Credit products for the rest of her life.

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Re: Uhh...

"Well yes, it seems that they want to encourage people to settle rather than take up the court's time"

Almost certainly, but there is a contradiction here with the general obsession in courts with case law. So, if you want to make a case into a precedent which helps other people in the future (which is possible the case here) then you HAVE to push through to a final legal decision. At which point the court claims that you've wasted its time.

Bloody lawyers.

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Re: Uhh...

"So, if you want to make a case into a precedent which helps other people in the future (which is possible the case here) then you HAVE to push through to a final legal decision. At which point the court claims that you've wasted its time."

Just playing devil's advocate (ha!) but if she was offered a settlement that was significantly higher than he award, then she doesn't seem to have suceeded in adding anything extra to the case law. So either she was after some additional judgement that she failed to get, or the settlement was all she was ever likely to achieve (in the opinion of the court). In either case I can see some justification for the other side not to have to cover their own costs beyond that point.

Completely ignorant of the case though, which is never a good position to form opinions from.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Uhh...

"Just playing devil's advocate (ha!) but if she was offered a settlement that was significantly higher than he award, then she doesn't seem to have suceeded in adding anything extra to the case law. So either she was after some additional judgement that she failed to get, or the settlement was all she was ever likely to achieve (in the opinion of the court)"

Well, there's also the bit in the article that says Oracle offered her $84,000 to settle, but her court costs were by that time $224,000. So had she accepted, she'd have to find $140,000 to pay legal fees ... that probably influenced her deciding not to accept that offer, don't you think?

Personally I can't see how winning a court case on every count, against a multi-billion dollar multi-national, then finding you're 6 figures in the red is anything short of bat-shit crazy, as legal systems go. You're essentially making it impossible for any individual to bring a case against a large company, because even if they win, they risk personal bankruptcy, whereas the multi-national, who employ full-time lawyers as a matter of course, just shrugs, and moves on.

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Re: Uhh...

Unless I'm misunderstanding the article, I think Oracle paid for the costs of both sides up to the point of the offer.

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Re: Uhh...

(why no edit function)Perhaps that is only their costs though.

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Damages

"Personally I can't see how winning a court case on every count, against a multi-billion dollar multi-national, then finding you're 6 figures in the red is anything short of bat-shit crazy, as legal systems go. "

Damages to the defendant are determined objectively (or, if you prefer, impartially) by the courts. If Oracle has to pay her legal bills, then the damages that Oracle has to pay are being determined by the complainant's lawyers. (I am classing any money paid to the complainant, including court and legal costs, as damages here. Technically that would be in correct but it will pass muster here.)

The solution, as far as I see, is that the party bringing suit has to have lawyers who agree that their maximum fee can not be more than the award that will be obtained. Complainant needs to seek a lawyer who will agree to such terms.

And in any event, the lawyers need to know what a reasonable expectation of the award will be: that's one of the bits of specialized knowledge that lawyers can be expected to have; award judgements are not made in a vacuum and generally fall in line with past awards. If she chose lawyers who did not have such knowledge, or if she insisted on proceeding with the suit because she was not satisfied with Oracle's settlement offer in spite of warnings from her lawyers about her potential award being less than the potential legal bills, then there's no one to blame but herself.

And I am not saying that the complainant looked at this as an opportunity to get rich quick with a multi-million dollar award, but maybe that was a factor too.

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Trollface

Re: Uhh... @Sorry

so i take it you are quite happy with your Ford Pinto?

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Re: Uhh... @Sorry

What's better is this: if you owe someone money because you have done something wrong, you pay every cent of what you owe, plus every cent of what it takes to get that money out of you.

The settlement offer did not cover costs up to the time the settlement was offered, according to the article, so she would have already suffered a net loss, although a smaller one, had she accepted it.

Oracle then of course could always sue the harassing employee for its legal bill.

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Re: Uhh... @Sorry

"What you mean the insane compensation culture free for all created under the current UK legislation is actually better?"

Please point out where I said that.

Cheers.

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Re: Damages

Having dealt with "knowledgeable lawyers", no you won't. The one thing even the bad ones seem to have learned in law school is to add the disclaimer "but you never know what's going to happen when you take it to a jury" as well as the importance of making sure they can collect their fees.

I expect the earlier posters are correct: she was looking for the 'defendant is guilty as charged' part, which wasn't part of the offer. Without that, even with a substantially better payoff, there is a certain sense of 'because the defendant was filthy rich, he got away with it.' Also, once the company has made an offer, whatever small obligation they may have originally felt to contain costs is now completely gone. All they have to do is make sure they run up their end of the legal bill, and the plaintiff loses anyway.

I'm sympathetic to the "loser pays" argument I've seen floated so many times in discussions about legal reforms. And the reason given for it is that it would make parties think more carefully about their suites. I see the motivation behind the Australia rules as being the same one. The reason I haven't been able to support that argument is I foresee it having the same perverse outcome as we have in this case. The evil perps already have the best paid lawyers on speed dial, and after they're freed, the victim has to pay their legal costs too.

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it seems that they want to encourage people to settle rather than take up the court's time,

Ooohhh, "taking up the court's time". I thought it was the taxpayers money that paid their salaries, their nice buildings. But when you need them you're taking up their time?

Since they don't want the taxpayer to take up their time, I suggest we fire the lot. That way they can go fishing and golfing whenever they want and they won't be taking up the taxpayers money.

Seems like a win-win situation to me.

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Where's the justice here?

This is a tragedy and does the legal profession no favours.

With all of the media attention on her case, the best thing her lawyers could do would be to make a public statement that they will be waiving her legal bill.

It would have the effect of drawing further attention to her case (and the fact that her lawyers won it for her) and would put the law firm in a favourable position with the general public (opposite to the current view).

Such a move would be commerciall shrewd, but then few lawyers have commercial acumen.

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Re: Where's the justice here?

The decision on whether to litigate further beyond the offer was the client's. The plaintiff's lawyers should have explained very clearly to her the likely consequences of rejecting an offer. If they didn't, that was improper of them. If they did, they can't help that she ended up out of pocket.

Some people want their day in court no matter what the cost - some people want to be vindicated.

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Angel

some people want to be vindicated

She should have hired the A-team instead?

What purpose does the justice system think they have in a society? Should we pay them just to have the pleasure of looking at their smug faces? Or should they actually contribute to society by giving people the impression there is some justice after all?

I really want to know.

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Devil

few lawyers have commercial acumen

I don't know, they seem to be doing ok.

But you put the blame with her legal team. The total legal bill is more than the cost of her legal team. There's the cost of Oracles lawyers and there's cost for forensics and expert witnesses.

Also the self declared very smart and important people that voted the bill. The walk away from this without being named & shamed?

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The offer

Was Oracle's offer a "here's the cash, let's never talk of this again" offer or a "yes, we were in the wrong, you were treated badly but we think this is a reasonable sum to cover legal costs and your suffering"?

In the first case if taken up, while outsiders might suspect it was an admission of guilt, it's not been made clear and she would not be able to say that she was harassed while working at Oracle, there might also be some residual stigma/rumours implying that she made it up, "couldn't take the heat", "what do you expect from a woman" etc

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Re: The offer

If the offer was an out of court settlement, then they are almost always on the basis that it is not an admission of guilt. This means that many people turn down such offers and continue with their case in order to get an unequivocal admission of guilt. The problem is that some companies make offers even when they honestly believe they are not in the wrong, simply to get the case over and done with. Other companies go down to the wire without making an offer even when they know they're in the wrong in the hope that the stress of it all will cause the accuser to drop the case.

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Childcatcher

Re: Where's the justice here?

Ordinary citizens are conditioned to expect justice from the government; the privileged class is educated to expect a legal framework that works to their advantage.

Rarely do justice and the law coincide. Mostly they coincide either by accident, oversight, or some stupidly egregious transgression that cannot be overlooked. In no case is 'justice' a determinant factor.

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Re: Where's the justice here?

I've got a judge on record as saying, "Keeping the cost and delays down (for the state) is more important than getting to the truth." So I concur that judges have a difference notion of "justice" to the naive one.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Where's the justice here?

I have a unicorn with a curly horn, therefore all unicorns have curly horns QED.

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