Podcast With Employment Attorney Edgar Ndjatou: Do You Need a Lawyer? Transcript

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Fired from your job? Afraid you might be fired? Are you facing other problems at work? Listen to what the lawyers have to say about it. Here’s your host Attorney Tom Spiggle.

Tom: Welcome to the “You’re Fired Podcast” for people who have been fired or afraid they might be, or who are facing any kind of legal problems at work. My name is Tom Spiggle of the Spiggle Law Firm. This podcast is for people who are not lawyers or at least not employment lawyers who are experiencing problems and trying to figure out what they should do next with a problem at work. And now I would like to welcome for this first podcast a great friend of mine, Edgar Ndjatou, here to talk with us about what you should do, if you’re not quite ready to call a lawyer, what you should do if you have been fired or having problems at work. Welcome, Edgar.

Edgar: Thank you. Thank you so much, Tom for inviting me on the show.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first before we get started, tell us a little bit about you. Obviously, I know who you are but tell us who you are and what you do and where you practice.

Edgar: Sure. So, again, I’m Edgar Ndjatou and I’m also an employment lawyer in the DC Metro area like Tom. I’ve been practicing now for about seven years and I started my own practice about four years ago here in DC. I’m originally from Cameroon, Africa but grew up in New York City, and I’m glad to be here.

Tom: All right, great. You got an interesting background and I know you to be an excellent employment lawyer. So let’s get started. So let’s say, you know, somebody’s listening to this podcast on Metro on the way to work or on the way back from work perhaps after being fired and something happened at work and it’s just not right, but they’re not quite ready to pick up a phone and call a lawyer, and let’s say that this person, maybe they’re out of your jurisdiction. They’re not in our area and it’s a friend of yours and calls you out and says, “Edgar, I’m not quite ready to hire somebody. I don’t need to know if I even need to hire somebody. I don’t even know if something illegal happened. Where should I start?”

Edgar: Well, the great thing now about this day and age is that there are tons of resources online in terms of how to find lawyers particularly employment lawyers, and I would first encourage people to go on Google and do a general Google search. A lot of websites now have great guides as to how to identify a good employment law case based on the type of issue you think you’re having. Some that come to mind are Workplace Fairness. There are also a couple of good law firm websites that have tons of information, as to how to identify a case and to get more familiar with terms.

I would also encourage people to use websites like avvo.com, which not only ranks lawyers, but you can also ask questions and lawyers will answer. Now, of course it’s not legal advice and they tell you that on the website, but you might get some good information from actual attorneys that are experienced in the field. And also you can go to websites like nela.org or the National Employment Law Association, where you can use a “find a lawyer” function to look for a lawyer in your jurisdiction. And also, there you will find a lot of great information as to the types of cases that are out there, how to identify, you know, a good employment law case and just, you know, information that would just better help you become a better client for the lawyer you end up hiring. And locally MWELA or the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyer Association is the DC Metro area affiliates to NELA, and there you will find the same type of information on that website.

Tom: Yeah, I know, I think those are all excellent points. So that’s NELA, nela.org and we’ll put all this information in the show notes for people that are listening. I also agree that’s an excellent site. You know, I guess one thing I’ll add about that, I agree with everything that you just said is that there is… I think it makes a good sense. Whether you end up hiring a lawyer or not, I mean, some people, you know, they don’t need to hire a lawyer, or they’ll handle it on their own, so it doesn’t have to be always your end point. But there’s a little bit of buyers beware when you put a Google search, even when you go onto Avvo, and I think Avvo which is avvo.com is a great site, all I can say, Edgar, you can go, and you can, you know, post questions and people will answer them, but you don’t know who’s on the other end.

Edgar: That’s true.

Tom: And I’ve seen it on Avvo where attorneys will go, and answer questions and they don’t even practice in that area. They just own their… sometimes it’s good advice and sometimes it’s not, that’s my only just be a little careful I think if you do your own research, particularly if you’re asking questions on Avvo, the cream will rise to the top, you’ll probably see [inaudible 00:05:12] know what you’re talking about, should give you somewhat similar answers, and I think those are all great points. Let me ask you this, Edgar, because we see this a lot in our practice, as I’m sure that you do. What about when people are really…well, two questions, but first is what about…talk to the folks a little bit on the difference between what we do representing employees and management side and the kinda information they might find if they do a Google search.

Edgar: Sure. So, basically, me and Tom represent employees in all types of employment matters, and basically you’re suing your company for some employment law violation. Management-side attorneys, they represent companies big or small, you know, in all types of employment matters similar to like what we do but on the other side. And so, oftentimes, when you go on a Google search, it may not be very apparent just by looking through the search terms that a law firm does either plaintiff-side work like me and Tom do, or management work like a firm like let’s say Morgan Lewis or Littler Mendelson. So, it’s important that when you do a Google search that you kind of define your terms as narrowly as possible, so you can do something as plain as “plaintiff-side employment lawyers” or “workplace rights lawyers.”

If you have an idea what kind of claim you think you have, you can use that claim as part of your search. And also make sure to look at the websites carefully. Sometimes, again, it’s not always apparent that the law firm that you’re looking at actually does the type of work that you’re looking for that lawyer to do. So definitely make sure to investigate the websites carefully, because sometimes you’ll find that…lawyers out there that do something completely different than what they come up as on the search term, but maybe they do a little bit of employment on the side, but they’re not necessarily specializing, they’re not experts in this.

So, make sure you do your research. Now I have to go back to avvo.com and that’s again, avvo.com, there they have very detailed descriptions as to the type of work that lawyers do, particularly if they maintain their account. And so you can see how much the employment law a lawyer does as compared to other practice areas or if they do all employment law. It’ll go through, you know, how long they’ve been in practice and if they have any bar complaints and so on and so forth.

Tom: Yeah, no, that’s a very good point about Avvo. Another thing about Avvo and I think it’s a very good site to consider, is that lawyers can go and claim their profile which means that they can go and say, “Yeah, that’s me,” like we have done. I assume you probably do that. You claim your profile and you can put all kinds of information on your site. So, I mean, I guess I would say, you know, when you get to the point, you know, if you’re looking on lawyers, the fact that someone has not claimed their profile does not necessarily mean they don’t know what they’re doing. It just may mean that…

Edgar: Right.

Tom: It just won’t be much there. And the other point that you make about the management websites which I think is a good one, the management sites are not bad, right? They often have very good information. I think I would want folks to know when they’re doing that Google search, if they find any right, unless you’re in this field, it may not be immediately apparent whether the firm represents management or employees. But if it’s management, they often have some very good blogs. I think Ogletree [SP] has a really good one like you said Littler Mendelson, and again, we’ll put these links in the show notes, have some very good blogs but they are for management and they’re tending so they write with that slant as they should and the cases they find are relevant from the management perspective, but that doesn’t mean they can’t provide good information for folks who are doing this research. But you’re right. I mean, you can still call them, they will tell you that, “Listen man, you need to call somebody else if you’ve been fired.” But they’re not gonna be the lawyers that you call most likely.

So here’s my second question there, I’m sure you see, and we see in our practice, and that is somebody who has done their own research which is a great thing, but they’ve come across case law, and by that, I mean, a reported, any kind of written court opinion that is put up on the web and, you know, which can be very helpful and sometimes not so helpful. For somebody who’s not a lawyer who’s doing a Google search and they run up some case law, what would you recommend? How should they use that, if at all?

Edgar: I come across this a lot with a lot of my clients where they find a juicy piece of case law with a huge verdict and they get very excited, and always my first response is, not all cases are the same, you know. And you should never assume that just because the case might look like yours that it’s exactly on par with yours, and you should make sure that you give an attorney time to review the case and to make a determination as to whether or not it’s something that will be useful to you in your case. And don’t get discouraged, you know, for a case to get that far these days, it’s probably a fairly extraordinary case.

Most cases these days don’t go to trial, so for something to get to trial and to get to a verdict, more often than not, you know, it’s a special type of case. You know, and usually, that case changes the law in some way, shape, or form in our practice area. So again, it’s not to say your case is not special, but you just have to take the information you get particularly case law with a grain of salt, and make sure that you give, you know, an attorney or the attorney you hire space to make a determination as to whether or not it’s ultimately useful to your case or to further [SP] your case.

Tom: Yeah, no, I think that’s right and then we see that in our practice too, and case law can be very helpful. I mean, I would not dissuade people from reading it. They may be scared away by the… Sometimes it’s not awfully exciting reading but you’re right, there are some people who really do their own research and reading cases can be very helpful, but you’re right, it’s hard to, you know, and this is a whole separate podcast about how even a layperson would go about analyzing a case. But if you’re in Virginia and you find you’re doing your research and you find a case for Connecticut State Court, you know, it may be a no relevance to you at all.

You gotta tell that by reading it. You might need a lawyer to take a look at that. I mean, that said, you know, they can be very helpful. And so, yes, find them, if you run across them on a Google search, absolutely, you know, take a look at them but, like you say, you just gotta be…understand that it may be of limited relevance to you. But nonetheless, read a couple of them and you at least get a sense of how courts analyze these cases whether or not the case has any particular relevance you know, to you. Let me ask you, do you have any familiarity, and it’s okay if you don’t, with Nolo? Have you ever heard of nolo.com?

Edgar: Yes, and I would say as an attorney that sometimes is my first place I go to for a quick research. Nolo is a wonderful, wonderful resource particularly if you’re trying to figure out what kind of case you have. They go jurisdiction by jurisdiction. So all 50 states, in all areas of employment law, they cover and they’re pretty thorough quick reads of what you need to know about a particular topic. And it’s a great place to start, you know, if you’re trying to just figure out, “What’s going on with my case?” Or, “What kinda case do I think I have?” And I’ll tell you a lot of lawyers, that’s where they go too, you know, for a quick reference on a topic that they may not be familiar with or wanna just confirm something that they might already know. So I speak very highly of nolo.com.

Tom: Yeah, I agree. It’s a fantastic do-it-yourself site, and you’re right, I mean, I use it myself for areas of law that I don’t know anything about and need a refresher or a primer on. They’ve got some really good books, hardcopy books on employment law in addition to articles. They also have a lawyer locator site that’s quite good. They really do a good job of, you know… They vet them, the people that write those books or that post there, they know what they’re doing. So it’s…in addition to Avvo and NELA, that can be a really good site. What would you tell people about government sites? Any of those that you would recommend they look at?

Edgar: Oh, definitely, eeoc.gov is a great one and part of the more important ones, because a lot of times most people will be filing discrimination claims, and the EEOC is the federal agency that handles many discrimination claims across the country. And so I would highly recommend it and particularly, you can sign up for email alerts from the EEOC, and every day you’ll get messages about big cases they’re working on, any new regulations that they’re working on or have passed, and just general news about the agency. And similar to Nolo, they have great guides about the types of cases that they handle, the areas of law that they oversee. And even more importantly, the EEOC process which is very important to understand particularly if you’re looking to get involved in the EEOC process for the first time. You know, understanding the deadlines between investigation, and more importantly your deadlines to file a case for the first time. And also, you know, if you’re a federal employee, a lot of the cases that you might get involved in as a federal employee are largely administrative. And so the EEOC website will walk you through the administrative process you have to follow as a federal employee, you know, filing a discrimination case.

The other website I would highly recommend is the U.S. Department of Labor. You know, for most employees, that website will be relevant when it comes to understanding, your rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or the law that governs minimum wage and overtime laws. And so, it’s a great reference because they have these great one or two-page guides about certain aspects of minimum wage and overtime regulations. Also, they have these great opinion letters they issue from time to time when someone asks a question about, you know, the laws that the Department of Labor enforces and the lawyers at the Department of Labor would take the time out to write these opinion letters to help inform the country about how to interpret the laws that are enforced.

So those are the two big government websites I would recommend, you know, you research and get the email alerts. And also locally particularly here in the DC Metro area, you have the DC Office of Human Rights which is sort of the state, a local equivalent to the EEOC. There’s also in Maryland the Maryland Commission of Civil Rights website that you can go to. And Tom, since you practice in Virginia, I think Virginia has its own but I’m not that familiar with it since I don’t practice there much, but I know Virginia has its own local agency that handles discrimination cases.

Tom: That’s right, yeah, particularly the counties in Northern Virginia, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax have their own basically offices of human rights and those also have very good information, good websites just like the DC Office of Human Rights, and that’s true for a lot of states. And no matter what state you’re in, you know, look for an office of human rights within your state and they may have a very helpful website. And then particularly if you’re in a big county, check your local governments too. And I would add, I think there’s a…as you say, like a Department of Labor, EEOC are really good sites and they’re gonna be right on the law.

I like going to Avvo where… I mean, the benefit of going to Avvo or Nolo, and Nolo they’ve got them too, is you get advice, or you get answers that’s designed to your answer, but a layman’s question for somebody who’s not a lawyer. Somewhat the same on Department of Labor and EEOC but it’s a little more dense. It’s a little less, I think, less user-friendly. With that said, once you’re on those sites, whatever you find there, you can usually take it to the bank in terms of whether or not it’s good law.

Another thing I would recommend is, and it depends on where you are, and it depends on who answers the phone when you call, but you might try calling, you know, your EEOC office or your…if you find that you have one like the DC Office of Human Rights, call them. They can’t necessarily ask you legal questions. I mean, answer legal questions but they may well be able to point you to some of their own resources. So they can certainly answer questions about their procedures and how to file and maybe relating to some questions about deadlines and…

Edgar: Right. And Tom, I would also add that particularly the EEOC and a lot of the other local agencies, they have times you can drop in, you know, for an in-person, so to speak, consultation, you know, where they’ll sit down with you. You can go through the facts of your case and they will give you advice as to what you should do next. And sometimes, you know, they might just say just file your claim right then and there.

Tom: Yep, no, that’s a very good point. Now, you’ve touched on something that I think was an important point and that is, you know, federal employees. I know you do a lot of that work, would you give them any kind of different advice and maybe you wouldn’t. But in terms of searching, is there anything that a federal employee needs to know that perhaps somebody in the private sector…or would be different in somebody in the private sector?

Edgar: Yeah. It’s a lot different because as a federal employee, you know, by and large, a lot of the times you’ll be going through your agency. And so, your agency particularly your EEO office might have a lot of information about your rights as a federal employee. And so, it’s very important as a federal employee to know where to find that information, whether it’s on the agency’s website or knowing where the EEO office is. And also a federal employee, there are other more arcane things you have to worry about or they should know of as a federal employee in terms of, you know, if you encounter certain situations at work. And so, a good website to go to as a federal employee is OPM or the Office of Personnel Management. OPM basically functions as the federal government’s big HR office, and they set all the policy and procedures regarding the employment of federal employees. So whether it’s information on EEO or if you’re experiencing issues at work in terms of you’re not sure if you’re at the right pay scale, if you’re trying to go on disability retirement. The OPM website or opm.gov is a great resource for federal employees.

Tom: Yeah, no, that’s a good point too. Now, I don’t know that folks will run into this, but some people do when they’re out there doing their own research. What is PACER?

Edgar: PACER is a government website that connects you to all the federal courts in the United States. So you can go on there to research cases. You can look up…and you can even do even more detailed searches on a case, so you can look up, you know, what firings [SP] have been made, who the attorneys are. You know, it’s a great way to research, you know, what kind of cases the attorney has done in the past. You can find their cases on there. And more importantly, if you were following your own case, you know, it’s a good way to keep track of what’s happening in your own case through PACER. And the good thing about PACER is that it doesn’t cost anything to have an account, and even if you want to go and print something, I believe there’s a threshold amount as to how much you’re charged. And so for the most part, you won’t be charged anything for downloading documents with your PACER account. So it’s a great resource the federal courts provide to the public.

Tom: Yeah, and also is a great way to research your company, well, whether you’ve been fired or still there, but if your company has been sued before at least in the federal court, those records will be there. I would add the same proviso that I would about case log generally to PACER which I think you would agree with. You’re gonna find everything under the sun in PACER and filings and everything is really, I mean, it takes a brave soul if you’re not a lawyer to go into PACER. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t, but it’s not user-friendly. Nevertheless, if you’re the intrepid type and you wanna go to pacer.gov, I believe you have to register an account. Yeah, I think that’s pretty easy. It’s a good way to see [inaudible 00:23:43] how the sausage is made with some of these cases. You know, the state courts too, it depends on the jurisdiction, but the state courts too often have electronic filing systems. DC Superior Court does or while the Virginia state courts did not, they are now moving that way electronically.

Edgar: Yeah, and so as Maryland as well. It’s slow goings but they’re getting there. But in Maryland, you can do Maryland case search which is not as in-depth as pacer.gov, but you at least get a docket report or a report of all the filings that have been made and information of the parties, so it at least gives you that with the Maryland state courts.

Tom: Yeah, no, I would just add for, you know, people that’re facing these situations, it can be very intimidating and you’re out there doing research, don’t let this get you overwhelmed. As a non-lawyer, going onto a court website and starting to, you know, look into that spaghetti ball, I could see overwhelming people. I mean, just don’t, you know, don’t. Do your research, that’s fine but don’t get in there and think, “Oh my god, I’m never gonna be able to do this. This is horrible. This is not something I wanna sign up for,” because I know…and you mentioned, Edgar, a lot of cases, not only do they not make it to trial, a lot of cases never even get filed, cases that are successfully resolved. So, you know, you could find a case, you know, or you see…you find some mean judge who’s writing an opinion kind of pulling apart the employee and those cases are out there, you can find them. You know, if you run across those, just stop, take a deep breath, and understand that it may not apply to you.

Edgar: Right, and I will add, Tom, I always encourage clients to do their research, you know, and particularly on just, you know, if you know the judge in your case, to do you research on the judge because you wanna understand, you know, how they might rule on things or how they make their decisions, how they think. And I can’t stress enough how great it is to have informed clients, and clients that they understand, or at least have an understanding about some of the things that as an attorney you have to take into account when evaluating a case, how the law benefits or does not benefit the plaintiff, and that how that factors into our decision-making on a case. And that’s when I explain things to a client that have a frame of reference as to what I’m talking about. You know, it really does help with the attorney-client relationship. And so, you know, as a practice, I always try to give clients resources that they can read or refer to, and I always also encourage them just to ask me questions, you know. And one thing I do as a part of my practice is I do a lot of pro bono work, and part of what I do is, I go out into the community.

Tom: Welcome back to the “I Got Fired Podcast.” Edgar and I were interrupted by a really pretty severe storm and we lost power, so we ended that on a Friday afternoon. We’re now back here on Monday afternoon to pick up. So, welcome back, Edgar.

Edgar: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Tom: We left off, you were talking about some of the pro bono work that you do out in the community. I’ll let you pick up where you left off.

Edgar: Sure, sure thing, Tom. Yeah, so as I was trying to say on Friday, I do a lot of pro bono work in the community, and what I do enjoy the most is doing trainings to individuals about knowing your rights in the workplace, one of the highlights of my pro bono work. And a lot of times, I’m able to answer questions for people and to help them get a better understanding of what their rights are in the workplace and how to identify cases. And the one point I always make before I begin any training is that, you know, “Take this information that I’m sharing with you today and share it with other people.” That the more educated people are about the rights at work, the better it is for attorneys like me and Tom to better serve our clients, because our clients have a good framework of understanding as to what rights they’re trying to assert.

Tom: Yeah, no, I think that’s a great service that you provide. Now, I wanna give everybody details on how to contact you in a moment. You practice in Washington, DC, is that right?

Edgar: Yes, I’m based in Washington, DC and I’m licensed in DC and I’m also licensed in Maryland.

Tom: So these people might be interested in trying to attend, you know, these pro bono, these meetings that you have, how would they find out about those? Where do you generally have that?

Edgar: So I generally…these days, I generally do them in Maryland at a place called the Training Source. The only thing is that you have to be part of their program to be part of it. I used to do them a lot with what was then called the DC Employment Justice Center, which is now part of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. I used to do a lot with them, and again, most of the time it was through established other nonprofits in the DC area. But I’m always more than happy if someone works with an organization or is part of a group and they wanna bring me in to do a talk about knowing your rights at work. I’m more than happy to do that, and for the most part, I’ll probably do it free of charge.

Tom: All right, that’s great. Well, so anybody who’s listening out there, Edgar’s giving out free advice. Call him up, he can come out to speak at your organization. Well, I really appreciate you joining me today, Edgar. I think this was very useful.

Edgar: Thank you so much.

Tom: Well, now, if somebody wanted to find you or call you, how would they do that?

Edgar: So my office number is 202-290-3724. You can also find us on the web at www.mnlawyerspllc.com, and my email address is endjatou@mnlawyerspllc.com. And I also would encourage everyone to follow our social media. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, and newly on Instagram.

Tom: All right, that’s great. We will put all that in the show notes for anybody who missed it. Can you give folks your website one more time?

Edgar: Sure, it’s www.mnlawyerspllc.com.

Tom: Right. Thank you so much, Edgar. Enjoy the rest of your week and I hope you stay dry.

Edgar: Thank you, Tom.

Man: Thanks for listening to the “I Got Fired Podcast.” Visit our website spigglelaw.com to catch up on all our episodes and take advantage of all the links and resources to help you if you’ve been fired. It’s all there for you at spigglelaw.com.

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