Since August 2021, Sean McDowell has been an associate attorney at the Law Offices of Mark Mausert. Mausert is an attorney in Reno, specializing in workplace harassment law with a focus on sexual and racial discrimination.
Tell me a bit about your background. How did you get interested in the law, and harassment law in particular?
The way the climate was in 2014 when I started, undergrad degrees weren’t as useful anymore. I went to Truckee Meadows Community College for two years, got my associate’s in science because I wanted to go to medical school. However, I found I enjoyed writing far more than I enjoyed math—so after completing my associates in science, I switched my major to history to earn my bachelor of arts at the University of Nevada, Reno.
After switching my major to history, I began working for an employer who was, for lack of a better term, just terrible as far as their employee relations were concerned. That’s when I became interested in employment law and began seeking entry into law school. I was accepted to law school at Ohio Northern University in 2018 and graduated in 2021.
What are your current responsibilities as an associate attorney?
Right now, I do a lot of the client interactions and am starting to increase the number of cases I manage. I mostly do phone consultations before we bring someone in for an in-person consult. I will typically do the first half of the in-person consults by myself to see if the case is viable and if I want Mark to get involved. If a case looks really good to me, I’ll bring Mark down from his office, and he’ll talk with the prospective client. We’ll then decide if we’re going to take the case from there. If we don’t accept the case, we explain to the prospective client their rights and options available to them. If we do accept the case, we begin the administrative Nevada Equal Rights Commission process to get the ball rolling on their case.
What are some factors that go into deciding whether to take a case?
There are several factors we consider, but most of the factors are on a case-by-case basis which can only be determined during an in-person consultation at our office. That being said, the Title VII Statute of Limitations is incredibly stringent and important. A person who experiences discrimination or harassment in violation of Title VII has only 300 days from the time of the discriminatory/harassing event to report that event to the Nevada Equal Rights Commission. After those 300 days have passed, there is no case.
What would you say to people dealing with workplace harassment? How should they make sure they have as strong a case as possible before contacting you?
The best thing a person can do when dealing with workplace harassment and to ensure the strongest Title VII case possible is to immediately call our office. This way we can help guide them through the process of reporting the harassment to their employer and assist them in obtaining evidence which they may not otherwise understand how to obtain on their own.
Even if a person is unsure if they have experienced discrimination/harassment but think they have, it costs nothing to give us a call to make sure. Especially with the 300-day statute of limitations. We would rather someone call us to confirm they do not have a case, then wait 301 days to find out they did have a case, but it is now time barred. Or accidentally do something that could destroy an otherwise great Title VII case.
I also want to take the opportunity to mention that often times we have to spend a lot of time and effort undoing mistakes clients made before contacting us because they chose to believe advice they received on social media or Google. I cannot stress enough how important it is for a prospective client to contact us as soon as possible.
Also, on the social media subject: If something is happening at work that you think is improper, don’t post about it on social media. It is stunning how many clients will post incredibly negative tirades about their employer on LinkedIn, Facebook, Yelp, Reddit, etc., because they believe they had been wronged. Everything that a client puts on the internet is discoverable and a potential case killer. Social media is not anonymous, and the things clients say on social media will come to light. Call us before you do anything.
How do you determine how much to ask for in the initial negotiations of a settlement?
Emotional damages are subject to certain caps. From 15 to 100 employees, it’s $50,000. From 101 to 200, it’s $100,000. And then 201-500 is $200,000. And 501+ employees is $300,000.
As far as where to start the negotiations, it really depends on the case itself. I hesitate to give a hypothetical here, because it is such a case specific determination. However, a lot of this comes from Mark’s experience. He generally knows what the value of a particular fact pattern is going to be.
How many of these cases end up going to court? Are there are a lot of out-of-court settlements?
Most of it is out-of-court settlements. The Ninth Circuit has built in a ton of opportunities to settle during the early stages of litigation. To give you an idea, only 2% of federal civil cases make it all the way to trial. To give further context, our office has not been to trial in roughly 15 years.