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A previous manager improperly terminated my employment and I'm involved with ongoing litigation related to this termination (i.e., suing for wrongful termination). How do I deal with this matter on a resume and during interviews? How open and in-depth should I be when answering questions about the issue?

A summary of the situation follows:

I worked for a fortune 500 company in an entry level accounting position. Our department was responsible for paying bills on behalf of our corporate clients, who were companies of various sizes.

A manager attempted to cover up an assault by an employee (not me), is suspected of attempting to embezzle money from clients, and attempted to use our H.R. team to tamper with witnesses. They also committed a variety of other more interpersonal civil offenses. At the time, I, along with my colleagues, attempted to resolve the issues we observed by:

  • Making upper management aware of the situation
  • Speaking to H.R.
  • Contacting law enforcement

(A substantial narrative of events is available in the edit history - removed for the sake of concision and substance)

When H.R. realized the manager had bamboozled them the H.R. team overreacted by suspending or terminating several employees, including the witnesses that the manager had tried to intimidate. My employment was improperly terminated by H.R., and I'm currently involved in litigation with my previous employer because of this improper termination.

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    Welcome, Regional Director! i have not read the question yet: it is a scary 'wall of text'. You get better chances to get good answers if you edit it for more clarity – aaaaaa Jul 6 at 16:48
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    Welcome! Reiterating what aaaaaa said, you really want to take this to the chopping block. Pretty sure the question can be summarized into 2-3 paragraphs – Victor S Jul 6 at 18:46
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    There is probably enough detail in this post for anyone familiar with the case to identify you - and the detail isn't necessary to answer your question – HorusKol Jul 7 at 0:41
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    I'm not convinced that the attorney who convinced you not to get out of a bad situation just in case you would be able to gain some financial benefit really had your best interests at heart... – Jasper Jul 8 at 8:01
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    Possible duplicate of How do I explain wrongful termination in an interview? – Cypher Jul 9 at 18:31
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On your resume, and when asked, you should never provide any of this detail. Your resume should focus on the good things you accomplished there. When asked why you are leaving, tread carefully. No-one will listen to the entire story, which sounds hard to believe, just because of the sheer length. Yet a very short answer like "it was a toxic environment" could lead an interviewer to think you're overly sensitive. I think the best bet is a one or two sentence that pull out the major facts. Perhaps:

I had a bad manager, who may have been committing crimes, and HR took the manager's side. There were also physical assaults on one of my coworkers by another. I really didn't feel I could stay there. I'd rather not get into details.

This shows you have some discretion, and are objecting to things anyone would object to. Perhaps most importantly, have an exit sentence prepared to change the subject by bridging to something you would rather discuss. For example:

That's why culture is so important to me in my job search, and why I applied here after learning about your culture from [a source of some kind.]

After that, ask a question about them that is only tangentially related such as why they are hiring or how long people normally stay with them, and try to react positively to whatever they answer. That concludes the interchange pleasantly, which is likely to mean they note the interchange as we asked why RD is looking for a new job, and got a sensible and pleasant answer.

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    +1 for "have an exit sentence prepared" – A. I. Breveleri Jul 6 at 17:31
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    Excellent advice. OP should not voluntarily reveal these details, but should be emotionally prepared for a sudden unexplained rejection. You never know who is talking to whom and he still might be overtaken by rumor. – A. I. Breveleri Jul 6 at 17:43
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    may have been committing crimes.” This is important since there hasn’t been a conviction as of yet. Since you have a lawyer, you should probably also ask your lawyer what you can and can’t say. – AffableAmbler Jul 6 at 17:52
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    @jamesqf If I am reading it right, a coworker assaulted another coworker, but the manager knew about it and didn't punish the perpetrator. – fyrepenguin Jul 7 at 18:08
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    Can Regional Director say something like "There were some legal issues I cannot discuss, except that I wasn't directly involved"? – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 7 at 20:41
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Generally speaking, you don't.

When asked, you speak in a general sense about troubles about the company: "I found management had problematic relations with employees and vendors"... and if they are attuned to the industry, you won't be telling them anything they don't already know.

That is, in fact, the crux of the matter and what they should be taking away. Now, if they press for "the inside dirt" on the matter, they may invite you to trash-talk about the company. So you say "well, that's in litigation which I can't comment on obviously.", and if they are confused as to why it's obvious, then allow that your attorneys gave you the gag order. And if they press "were you fired?" you say "wrongly, hence the litigation".

The problem is, if you start talking about all the sordid affairs of the company, you open a huge can of worms. Because now the new company gets to examine everything you say in terms of how it will affect them, and to what degree your past conduct, or patterns of conduct, will bring trouble down on their house.

Also, this "invitation to trash-talk" is a measure of character -- and it's a trap. If you'll trash-talk your last company, you'll trash-talk your next one. If you're going to trash them down the road, they'd like to know that now.

The most you can ever do is if someone very accurately guesses the situation, this.

To disclaim, I have opened that can of worms, during an edge condition when it was appropriate to do so, but "shut up" is usually the watchword during any litigation. You need to say a few words, the right words, at the right time and place, that count, and that's what you have lawyers for. All else works against you.

From the wall of text, I gather that a) you may find silence difficult, and b) you lack a well-calibrated sense of discriminating what should be said, and what should not. The tale of the employee surreptitiously taping a manager meeting finished it for me!

I for one find that "need to talk" added to "saying too much", equates to at the very least, a source of "drama" - something which is corrosive to any workplace. On that demerit alone, I for one would pass you over for another candidate. So I would say that displaying anything resembling drama, in any form, is not something to do in the workplace, least of all in an interview.

At least you are the initiator in the lawsuit rather than the defender. It would help to win.

  • Just did. Thanks. @KateGregory – Harper Jul 6 at 19:45
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    +1 for commenting on OP's lack of discretion. – arp Jul 7 at 10:56
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    I think that the "lack of discretion" translate to saying too much. They're not false information, but unnecessary to be revealed to the whole world. The inability to protect themselves from being identified, for the sake of "being heard", isn't easy to deal with by an external party (e.g.: future manager). Better dig within and figure out what it is that you're really trying to do, then address those issues without the "drama". – Nelson Jul 8 at 6:40
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A job interview after a bad previous employer is a bit like going on a first date after a messy divorce. Show your best side and keep the previous bad experience short and at a high level. A few rules of thumb can go a long way:

  • Show that you won't start trouble. Hearing that you got upper management, HR and an attorney involved is very scary stuff to anyone hiring. They just want cogs in the machine. It's irrelevant to them whether you had the right to do that or if it was the right thing to do or even if you could convince them they'd do the exact same thing. All they will hear are potential expensive lawsuits. Just don't mention any of that. At all.
  • Show that if problems do happen, you'll be a problem solver and won't make it worse. Everyone knows there's a reason someone's looking for a new job, so they'll expect to hear something, but keep it high level and short. Keep all the details for family and friends! If it's relevant, maybe mention situations where you went through the normal processes to help.
  • Show that you'll be mature and classy about future problems if they come along. People are always put off by rants or complaining. Even if it sticks in your craw mention specific positive points about working for them. Show that you don't hold grudges, that you think the best of people even if they don't show their best side.
  • Remember they're making a decision about you, no one else. Show them who you are and how you handle bad situations. They couldn't care less about a random third party. They will care about any interactions you had with them and what it tells them about you as a person.
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If you have an active lawsuit in this matter, I really don't think you can discuss any of the details at all, especially with someone who potentially works for the competitor of this employer.

Your first advice should come from the lawyer handing your case. Beyond that, I am really fond of the advice from the top answer about having an exit line prepared.

My final advice, if you can't get any from your lawyer (without paying $500) is to say simply that there were serious legal complications and you can't discuss them because there's an open lawsuit.

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Treat the matter as if you were almost an uninvolved outsider only. There were issues. They impacted your ability to do the job you were employed for, because the team had become poorly organised.

I wouldn't say this below is perfect by any means, but it should be capable of being tweaked so that it is plausible, doesn't place you in the problem zone, doesn't cause legal issues, and quickly moves to a new topic.

"Problem had arisen in the management team for my and a few others' department. Multiple complaints had been made, including complaints alleging serious misconduct, against one or more people in the company with management roles in my team. The part of the business affected broke down to the point that I feel I couldn't do my job fully or appropriately, because of the issues. I reluctantly felt that the situation wouldn't resolve on a reasonable timescale. I love being part of a purposeful, productive professional team and workplace, and I love to gain satisfaction from good work done well, so I have decided to move to X company because of its reputation for a more professional and commercially successful approach to its business, if my skills would be useful here."

If asked at interview if you were directly involved, you can deflect by saying that due to the serious nature of some of the allegations, it is possible that you may be asked to provide testimony, but beyond that it is an unpleasant situation you wish to put behind you and get on with your work. If pushed again, be blunter, "Everyone who might have seen or heard matters in the team, has pretty much been told not to discuss it with anyone, and I'd like that respected. It's unfortunate, its past, and I would like it left in the past." And then "I can't say, because of police and possible legal actions which might occur against the company, I'm sorry."

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