Avoiding Lawsuits In The Early Education Industry 

Lawsuits in the United States are sometimes referred to as an epidemic.  I’ve seen many lawsuits in our industry, and I’ve been asked to serve as expert witness in many of those cases.  While it’s true that anybody can sue anybody, many lawsuits can be avoided.  Here’s the how and why of some of our industry’s most popular litigation issues.

    1. See Your Students–Whenever possible, look at the children as they enter your school.  Say good morning to your parents.  There was once an exceptional school built to provide early education for kids who otherwise had no chance at high quality early education.  The people who founded the school had to chase the drug addicts out of the empty building so they could create the school.  They created.  They opened.  They filled the school.  The kids had uniforms so everyone was equal, and teachers were teaching.  One morning, a parent drops off her son and exits the building quickly.  Her son had been burned by what appeared to be an iron.  She sued the school and claimed that one of the school’s radiators burned her son.  It hit the news cycle.  The school was gone before they could get to a courtroom verdict.  We were called in sell the remnants.  You can be right and still lose.  Protect yourself.
    2. Don’t Provide Opportunities for the Opportunists—Sometimes parents fall on hard times. Most of us find a way to work it off, but sometimes people look for a shortcut.  We’ve seen lawsuits filed against schools for…
      • Woman in high heeled shoes turns ankle walking back to car on level parking lot.
      • Comments about an employee’s clothing.
      • Boy puts gravel in nose.
      • Child falls on playground.
      • Child bites child.
      • Child hits child….and child hits child back.
      • Slip on juice.
      • Playground fence unsafe.

      These lawsuits are usually settled for the lower end of the $500 to $2,000 range, but they’re still a drain on your time and energy.

    3. Sexual Harassment—While sexual harassment cases aren’t limited to men harassing women, if you’re a man working in this industry make sure you stay away from anything in this area.  Unfortunately, a simple and genuine compliment can be used against you and your company if the wrong person is on the receiving end.  In a meeting with an attorney, I was told of a case where four or five women sued the owner of the company for sexual harassment after working together for years.  Apparently, it was all good natured joking.  They were well into the lawsuit when the owner found and submitted several cards (birthday…etc.) containing sexual comments from these same women.  The company won the lawsuit, but it costs tens of thousands of dollars and several long-term employees.  Be polite.  Be professional.  Skip this whole experience.

    Some lawsuits are legitimate and necessary.  Many are not.  These lawsuits typically happen because parents or employees see an easy payday, and their attorneys see the same thing.  For some attorneys, even if they know they can’t win, they’ll try to force some minor settlement if there is anything that looks like discrimination, harassment or neglect.  For most people in our industry, these issues will never be a material problem.  Be disciplined and professional on a daily basis.  Everything should be fine.

    As always, we hope it helps…..

    Brad Barnett, President BFS®

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