American Business Legal Environment - American Business law is also known as commercial and corporate law. It governs all business and commercial transactions, but most consider it to be a branch of civil law that has evolved into a more specific level of focus. This form of law governs manufacture and distribution of goods, guarantees, accidents, corporate responsibilities, contracts, hiring practices, and the manufacture and sales of consumer goods. In the United States, unlike some other countries, commercial law is part of the purview of the U.S. Congress and the civil codes that govern laws between the states. This template came about based on needing to establish some sort of legal venue that would transcend individual state's jurisdictions so that goods could be transported between states and still have legal protection (Commercial Law, 2010). Many efforts have been made to create a more unified, "national" code that deals strictly with matters of commercial law, but the most successful has been the adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code, which in general was adopted with some minor modifications by certain state legislatures. This code, first published in 1952, was an attempt to make sales and consumer laws more harmonious between all 50 U.S. States. Since commercial transactions regularly occur between states -- goods are manufactured and sent all over; the UCC allowed states to be flexible but still deal with national moveable property and modernize many outdated contractual segments (Research Guide to the UCC, 2011).
The American Court System -- The Court system in the United States is composed of Federal Courts, State and Territorial Courts, and Local Court Systems. The Federal Court System is part of the Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government, with the Supreme Court being the highest ruling body. Every State typically has three levels of Court: Trial courts that hear cases, Appellate Courts that review those findings, and a State Supreme Court that rules on cases that rise from the appeals process. State courts, in fact, hear about 98% of litigation within a special court system that handles minor disputes like traffic, etc. up to more serious procedures dealing with more criminal aspects of the law (How the Legal System Works, 2012).
State courts often have their own procedures based on the particular Constitution of that State. The Federal Courts hear cases that involve litigation from two or more states, violation of federal laws, treaties, Constitutional questions, and bankruptcy. Typically, statistics show that cases are about 80% civil (civil rights, social security, etc.) and 20% criminal (Faxes, robbery, drug crimes, etc.). Trial courts are called District Courts, followed by Courts of Appeals in smaller areas (regions) moving to the Supreme Court for certain final decisions (Introduction to the Court System, 2003).
Summary of Whitt v. Harris Teeter, Inc. -- In November of 2000, Wendy Whitt filed a complaint in Forsyth County Superior Court against Harris Teeter, Inc. And one of its employees, Randy Shultz. Whitt alleged that Schultz sexually harassed her during her employment and that the company, Harris Teeter, Inc. failed to take appropriate action to protect her, and other employees, from misconduct. In addition, Whitt alleged that after she reported the sexual harassment to her managers, Harris Teeter, Inc. retaliated against her, and eventually terminated her employment. Whitt claimed four issues: 1) intentional emotional distress; 2) negligent supervision; 3) wrongful termination, and 4) wrongful discharge based on a hostile work environment. Despite her claims and evidence regarding threats and a lack of consideration by management, the trial court granted Defendant's motion for a directed verdict. The jury rendered a verdict finding that Harris Teeter, Inc. was not liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent retention. Whitt appealed and believed that the Court improperly granted a directed verdict. The appellate Court agreed that the lower Court erred, and reversed the judgment of the trial Court (Whitt v Harris Teeter, Inc., 2004). Harris Teeter appealed, and the Supreme Court of North Carolina, primarily based on the fact that North Carolina is an "at will" employment state," reversed the finding of the Court of Appeals (Whitt v. Harris Teeter, 2005).
Risk Management -- Within any organization, there are individuals who act in ways that may be unethical or immoral, but not illegal. Each organization should, in fact, have an employee manual that is designed specifically to address all issues surrounding what is, and is not, acceptable in that organization. The Whitt case has two components, though: the sexual harassment portion and the termination portion. Whitt was not able to coo borate her story of harassment due to lack of supporting evidence, and lost the employment portion because the State law of North Carolina follows the employment relationship as at will: "any hiring is presumed to be "at will"; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals "for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all," and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work" (Rothstein, et.al., 1987, p. 738). Certainly some criticize this, but it also benefits employees in that they can leave work without retribution.
In general terms, risk management is a way to identify, assess and prioritize risks that are associated with a project or organization. The purpose of risk management is to be proactive in improving places or processes within an organization that may have risks that can be mitigated or controlled -- and to do something to minimize those risks and the financial exposure to them. In almost any organization, there are potentials for risk -- within a construction project there may be supply or labor issues; within a small business stock, weather or employee issues; or in other organizations uncertainty in markets, legal issues, credit risks, accidents, natural causes or disasters, deliberate competitive attacks, and a host of other unpredictable cases. So rife are risks for organizations, that standard and have been developed by national and international bodies, insurance agencies, and regulatory agencies to help organizations identify and minimize risk (International Organization for Standardization, 2009). Clearly, to prevent situations like this, Harris Teeter would need a comprehensive document that was part of an employee initiation program, signed by individual employees that would list behaviors and consequences. Internally, the company should have a sensitivity training program for all employees as part of predicating harassment claims.
Ethical Considerations- Despite the legality of the Whitt case, if indeed there was harassment happening, it was the company's moral responsibility, as well as legal responsibility, to at the very least respond to Whitt's allegations with a thorough investigation. The very essence of the Civil Rights fight over decades and decades was that every citizen, regardless of age or ethnicity, be accorded basic Civil Rights protection. However, in the 21st century, the question remains -- should civil rights laws protecting employees from discrimination also outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual connotations in the work environment? Clearly, there was an inherent moral responsibility to not only address Whitt's concerns, but to talk with Schultz, and institute any possible protocols that would allow for a non-hostile work environment -- protected under Whitt's civil rights (Is Workplace, 2010).
Relevant Sources of Law- "At Will" employment is part of the statutes for many states, and although there are other considerations, if an employee is notified that the business subscribes to "at will," then that law usually prevails. While there are some exceptions to this, most states find that it takes egregious misconduct to overthrow the principle (Olson, 2012). Despite divided panels, and case law citing precedent, the Courts found that North Carolina law sided with the idea of an employer being able to terminate any employee at any time for any cause (See Brief 416A04 Amici Curare from North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, 2005).
Alternative Solutions Outside of Court -- Certainly, arbitration could have prevented several years in Court for both sides. In any set of circumstances that involves dealing with people, there are issues of agreement and disagreement. In many organizations, particularly those dealing with public and private healthcare, there are already a number of policies and procedures that outline most of the ways people need to act toward one another depending on their role (e.g. supervisory vs. employee, co-worker, etc.). Mediation of a dispute typically involves using a neutral third party to act in the role of a guide, a negotiator, or someone who might she differing viewpoints upon a situation. They may or may not be a member of the legal profession, but are required to hear both sides of the dispute, then meet with the parties, and focus on a mutually beneficial solution to the issue. Mediation is less formal than arbitration, and tries to ensure that parties "really want a solution" to the issues and will work to find said solution. Arbitration, however, usually requires a judge or attorney, and is similar to a court proceeding. Often, both sides must agree to the decision by the arbitrator to be binding, and typically, arbitration avoids…