Pittsburgh (2550)

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

Dealing with feelings

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The headline on a recent newspaper article said that many people want to sock a co-worker. Coupled with what appears to be an escalation in workplace violence, I admit I wasn’t too surprised.

According to the research, one employee in six said that in the past year, they had wanted to punch a co-worker. The numbers were even higher for people under age 35, especially those working in clerical, office and sales positions.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup organization, included 750 workers over the age of 18.

In a similar survey conducted one year ago, 42 percent said they were often “at least a little angry” at work. This year the number increased to 49 percent — nearly half of those polled.

The Marlin Co., which publishes and markets motivational, educational and safety materials, commissioned the study. Said Frank Kenna, the company’s president: “This is a serious problem for people who manage any of these people. Their ability to recognize and deal with anger and potentially violent behavior is absolutely critical.”

I remembered an incident about a year ago at an assembly plant. Someone had scheduled a group of people to meet with me at a time that was apparently too close to the shift change. Only one employee showed up — and he was angry. The first words out of his mouth were, “You don’t want to talk to me, dude. I hate this (expletive deleted) place!” Then he added, “Sometimes I want to get my gun and blow my (expletive deleted) supervisor away.”

I figured that since we were both being paid for the time, I was going to get him to talk. During the entire interview, he never looked at me once, and I remained “dude.”

But in the next few minutes, he revealed some interesting information. He said his supervisor often cussed him out and treated him like dirt. “Just like my old man,” he said. “He croaked a few years ago. Good riddance.

“He used to beat on me all the time when I was a kid,” he continued. “No matter how I tried, that old (expletive deleted) never gave me any credit for anything. He said I was a waste of good spit!”

Thinking it might be a good time to change the subject, I asked what he would like to do if he didn’t have to work. His response was quick.

“Oh, me and my buddy are gonna take our motorcycles and go out West. We’re going live in Arizona, New Mexico. Man, we’ll just ride all day long!”

Since I was somewhat familiar with the area, we talked about that part of the country. His anger faded as he talked about some of the places he had seen on his last visit. He became a different person, a person you could easily learn to like.

As he left, he stuck out his hand. “Nice talking to you, dude,” he said. As he reached the door, he turned slowly and added, “You know, this ain’t such a bad place to work. I’ve seen worse.”

The research presented in the article pointed out that 64 percent of those surveyed said that at least part of their frustration was because their equipment frequently malfunctioned. These same people expressed dissatisfaction because they felt their co-workers wasted an average of 75 minutes a day on computer games, personal calls and e-mail.

My advice to you, as leaders and managers, is this: Get to know your people. Show them they are important to you and to the organization.

My own research has shown that more than 50 to 60 percent of your people don’t need direct supervision if their equipment is functioning properly and they have a steady work flow.

By investing a little of your time getting to know your people and eliminating the root causes of their dissatisfaction, you’ll make significant improvements in reducing stress and improving performance. At the same time, you will greatly enhance the value of the person.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. Reach him at (412) 276-7396 or via e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:49

A try at retiring

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The notion is tempting. Retire by the time you’re 40, share more of your time with your family and still keep your hands in the business world. Sounds like the Silicon Valley Dream.

Mark Juliano wants to live the dream, and he’d like to see it become more common in Pittsburgh. The former Fore Systems executive and entrepreneur who led Islip Media, now MediaSite, to a successful raising of $7 million in capital earlier this year decided that he’d had enough 16-hour days.

Now he’s spending more time with his family, planning to go back to school in January and trying to figure out what the next stage of his life is going to look like.

Retiring at such a tender age may not seem like much of a chore, especially if you possess the financial wherewithal. But as Juliano tells it, mixed emotions surface when one contemplates such a move, not the least of which is fear: Fear of losing your skills, of what others might think, of the unknown, “fear of whatever I do next, I won’t be good at.”

While Juliano may be getting off the corporate track, it’s clear that he plans to make the years to come as exciting and interesting as his career in high tech has been. He has retired as MediaSite’s president, although he’s not completely withdrawing from the business. He plans to continue to spend some of his time as a board member and adviser to MediaSite.

And he wants to fashion himself as a booster for Pittsburgh business, promoting the region as a fertile valley of entrepreneurial activity and working with other local business people to burnish that image. Here’s what he has to say:

Was there a defining moment when you realized that you needed to make this change?

I’d say there really was not. But there definitely was one time when I started thinking about this, and that was the day Fore Systems went public, which was five years ago now. I consider that a defining day in the sense that I was never allowed to have this conversation with myself before that day. Financially, there’s a good chance I won’t have to work again, so what do I really want to do with the rest of my life, if you will?

I decided what I really wanted to do was continue to work. I actually went through the whole scenario of not working and doing what I’m doing now and concluded, I guess, I hadn’t quite finished what I set out to do from a career standpoint.

Over the last four or five years, I’ve achieved what I set out to do on a career point. So I guess those two goals were taken care of, both the career goal and the financial goal, and that’s when I pretty much decided it was time.

So you decided early on that you wanted to do this?

I wouldn’t say I decided early on that I wanted to do this. What I decided early on was I wanted to seriously consider it. It was now an option that could be taken. Many people at the point of making some kind of financial windfall say, “You’re crazy, I would never do anything but what I’m doing now.” I did not say that to myself. I said, “Gee, there’s this other possibility. I’d like to go down that road.”

When I left Fore Systems, one of the things I did, for example, was go to Europe for two months. That was my debriefing time. I didn’t know if I wanted to get right back into it. I went through the motions, certainly, thinking about what if I stopped working. What would this mean in terms of my career, what would this mean in terms of what I’d do with myself, and decided that it did not make sense.

Would you say you satisfied the career and entrepreneurial goals you set out to achieve?

What I would say is I exceeded my career goals. I never really had the goal of necessarily being the CEO of a small company, but it was obvious that I could do that after my last company (AVIDIA). MediaSite moved from the incubator/pure start-up phase to the growth phase. I feel successful in doing what I started out to do, which was to start a company. I didn’t set out to finish a company.

What plan did you make for the transition from busy entrepreneur to retired executive?

Basically, I really see two phases of a plan. I have one right now, but to be honest, this whole deal is about not having a plan. I consider myself now in a transition phase. There is still work to be done at MediaSite. I’m coming in half-time or so, maybe a little less as the weeks go on.

On the other side of the transition, which is starting up new things, I didn’t have any plans and this kind of proves it: If I’d had plans six months or a year ago, I would have just jumped into something new, but I didn’t. So now I’m really doing a lot more investigation. I’ve talked to folks ranging from the heads of departments at the school of drama at CMU to a guy at Point Park College. I’ll be attending school pretty much on a full-time basis.

I’ve put out feelers for getting involved with a lot of things with my kids. I was just at a Cub Scouts meeting this weekend, something I probably never would have done in the past. People were talking about maybe starting a new den, and I said, “I’ll lead it.” I would never have been able to say that before.

What kinds of economic development activities will you be involved in?

I’ve been very involved with two groups. One is called Next Step (a group of CEOs of Pittsburgh-area companies). The other is the Hot Team group. There have been a lot of studies done, but one in particular was done by the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance over the past year with a consulting firm from the Silicon Valley that looked at what it took for cities to become hot in the high-tech and entrepreneurial areas. They studied Pittsburgh, and now we’re at the implementation phase.

One of the things that they found is that the city is not taking advantage of its own base of high-tech entrepreneurs, any-tech entrepreneurs, for that matter, so they formed this group. We have a series of projects we have recommended. One project that I will be involved within a smaller group is something that doesn’t have a name yet. We just call it “The Entrepreneurs Club.”

It will have a real name pretty soon. Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is an alternative to the Duquesne Club for the year 2000. It’s different in the sense that we envision having cybercafes, hookups for your PC, no dress codes, that sort of thing.

Do you think you will be able to resist the entrepreneurial urge?

I just got off the phone with somebody about an hour ago. He asked me if I know of anybody who was interested in a very senior executive job at a regional telecom company that’s being formed around here. He said the salary would be somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, with a huge amount of options. That’s easily the kind of job that I could say yes, I’d be interested and probably get, and I’m just not interested. Everybody is enticing in the world. You read Time magazine and you find out about all of the dot-com companies, but you’ve got to look at them and say, “I’ve been there, done that, I’m moving on.”

It’s definitely not easy. People value people based on their jobs. What you do is about the most common question someone asks you after “What’s your name?” That’s something at this point in my life I’m ready to deal with. Perhaps five years ago at Fore when I thought about it I was not ready for the question. Now, I’m confident in the answer.

What do you believe that you have to offer to the entrepreneurial community?

I think certainly one of the main things is I’ve been involved in successful ventures, but I’ve also lived in Silicon Valley and New York City and worked there. Those are the kinds of places that Pittsburgh aspires to be like or to (adopt some of their) a ttributes. Very few of us in Pittsburgh have actually done that and succeeded out there. I had a venture that I worked at before Fore that was quite successful. I think that’s real key, having a link to other places.

One of the major problems in Pittsburgh is in marketing. Whether we’re good or not doesn’t matter if nobody knows about us. The old perception is the real issue. I think my marketing skill is of value to the organizations I’m working with. The third thing is, I’m the kind of guy that gets stuff done. I don’t need a lot of data to make a decision and move. That’s an attribute, I think, that comes with a lot of entrepreneurs. We may not always be right, but we’re certainly moving somewhere.

Are you surprised by the ventures that have been spun out of Fore Systems?

One is, it didn’t surprise me at all to see the success of people who left Fore and started companies. What did surprise me, frankly, is how few companies spun out of Fore Systems. I expected by now at least a dozen companies to have formed from Fore, and there really have been three, maybe four, depending on how you define it.

Why do you think that has been the case?

I think some of the reason is a lot of the senior guys at Fore who did leave got pulled outside of Pittsburgh. Fore continued to do well, so a lot of them just stayed put and got promotions and made more money, so there were opportunities there. When I was [in Silicon Valley], a dozen spin-offs out of a successful company was nothing. Every company that was successful spun that many off.

So maybe, and this is the part I’m really guessing, this area isn’t exactly one that fosters entrepreneurship in the high-tech arena, at least that was it five years ago. Maybe today it is, and you’re starting to see more of these smaller companies getting started from Fore and Transarc and from all of these other companies.

How to Reach: MediaSite at (412) 288-9910 or www.mediasite.net

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

The power of one

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Here we are, not just facing a whole new year, but a whole new century. So what challenges will the new millennium bring? What problems? What opportunities? What lessons from the past can we use to our advantage in the new century?

There was a time early in this century when Congress actually considered closing the Patent Office. Many of the leaders of the time believed that everything that could be invented already had been. After all, didn’t we have the wireless and the telephone? And up in Detroit, a guy named Ford was saying that everyone soon would be able to buy a horseless carriage.

One thing is certain, though, at this point: The next century will be different. The advances in technology will continue — probably even more rapidly than in the recent past. If the past is any indicator, everything will change. Our markets will change. Our people will change. And all of that will necessitate changes in how we manage our businesses.

So, how do we prepare for all this change? Traditionally we prepare for the new year by making a list of resolutions. The list usually consists of good intentions. We plan to eat healthier foods, exercise more, and in general, make an effort to become better people. Occasionally we actually keep our resolutions, at least for a time.

The secret to improving the quality of life in the coming century begins with you. You are a leader, and you need to be the best you can be — in your workplace, in your home and in your community. If you are a good leader, you can improve the quality of life for the people around you. And it will improve exponentially in ever-widening circles. The positive influence you can generate will spread as others become energized.

One of the greatest gifts you, as a leader, can give to the people around you is gift of flexibility. Teach them that change is always with us — and that the rate of change is sure to escalate. Going from the horseless carriage to the computer chip will be nothing compared to the change we will face in the coming years.

Some change will be good for us, some will not. Regardless, as a nation, we need the ability to react quickly, to take advantage of the positive changes, and to avoid or eliminate the changes that pose a threat. Our greatest enemy will always be complacency. And fear.

But with complacency and fear comes decline. If we are to remain a vital society, we must continue to respond to change and use change to our advantage.

It begins with one person. As a leader, you are the one who can make the difference. You will be the one who will inspire others to keep the wheels of progress moving forward at an ever-increasing pace. You can inspire people to avoid complacency, and to see the opportunities that lie hidden in every change.

So add one more resolution to your list. As the pages of the calendar turn, resolve to share the gift of flexibility with those around you.

Remember that you represent the Power of One.

William Armstrong, a management consultant for 30 years, is president of Pittsburgh-based management consulting firm Armstrong/Associates. Reach him at (412)276-7396 or by e-mail at armassoc@fyi.net.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Survey says....

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Market researchers use a variety of methods to gather data. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of effectiveness, cost, reliability and expedience.

Here’s a rundown of various research methods and their pros and cons. The information is derived from the Web site of market research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch:

Telephone surveys — Telephone surveys can ensure qualified respondents, allow the researcher to probe the respondent, provide good response rates and allow the researcher to gather and quantify the information quickly. On the down side, they can be moderately expensive.

In-person surveys — Like telephone surveys, these can ensure that the respondents are qualified and interviewers can delve deeply into the attitudes and opinions of those being questioned. They also enjoy good response rates and active respondent involvement. The disadvantages are that interviewer bias can skew the results, turnaround time is slower and they are expensive.

Internet surveys — These kinds of surveys are inexpensive and eliminate interviewer bias. The problems are that they don’t ensure qualified respondents and they can produce biased respondent demographics. Also there’s no opportunity to probe for more information.

Mail surveys — As with Internet surveys, mail surveys prevent interviewer bias and are usually low in cost. However, they don’t ensure that the respondents are qualified or offer the ability to probe for more information. Response rates and turnaround time are often poor. How to reach: Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, www.intersearchcorp.com

Ray Marano

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48


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R.L. Polk, a consumer marketing information company based in Detroit, has opened a regional sales office in Pittsburgh. The local office will market Polk City Directory products and InfoTYME, a CD-ROM that allows users to access a data base encompassing approximately 240,000 households in Allegheny County.

Hill Flaherty Sabol and Carroll Advertising have merged their operations to form Flaherty Sabol Carroll. The new firm reports capitalized billings of approximately $12 million and 17 employees.

MSA PASS Inc. has received a contract to provide a Level 2 control system for a vacuum tank degasser at TAMSA, a Mexican steel plant located near Veracruz.

FastSigns on Banksville Road has opened a trade show display division, which it is calling Display World. The new division adds the Intex line of trade show booths along with the Fastsigns products.

U.S. Tool & Die Inc. is expanding its operations at Keystone Commons by leasing an additional 52,000 square feet, bringing its total floor space to 150,000 square feet by next February. The company employs 150 people at its facility, which manufactures spent nuclear fuel racks.

Pittsburgh Home Savings Bank is building a new banking facility in the Village of Pine, a planned town center project in Pine Township. The branch, Pittsburgh Home Savings’ 10th, will include a full-service office and three drive-up automated teller machines.

Stargate Industries has acquired InetONE, a Beckley, W.Va., Internet service provider. The purchase adds 9,000 subscribers to Stargate Industries’ roster in a five-county area.

VayooMall.com Corp. has launched an e-commerce Web site, www.vayoomall.com. The site’s package of services will initially target the Indian community working in North America and eventually will expand to encompass international professionals working abroad.

Pellegrini Engineers, a consulting civil engineering firm with headquarters in Altoona, has opened a Pittsburgh office.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Homework challenge

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Most entrepreneurs go into business for financial freedom and the challenge. And for some, one business isn’t enough.

Still, whether this is your first or seventh venture, it’s important to do your homework when buying an existing business.

The benefits of buying an existing business are obvious: The business will bring with it established customers, suppliers, employees, a name and reputation. Failure rates for existing businesses are lower than those of new businesses.

However, as part of the due diligence process and before you jump into anything, make sure you inquire about why the business is for sale. Turnaround projects are always risky, especially if the purchaser doesn’t have experience in this area.

Before you even begin to explore opportunities, yput together a team of specialists, including an attorney, accountant and perhaps even a banker (if a loan will be needed to fund the acquisition), who can give you greater credibility in investigating potential acquisitions.

When you identify an opportunity, this team should review all of the financial information available on the business. In the best-case scenario, the new acquisition should pay a competitive salary for either the owner, if he’s going to be active in the business, or an operations manager, if the owner isn’t going to be active — plus a healthy profit.

The definition of a healthy profit should include a return that equals the long-term return of the stock market, (11 percent) plus 4 or 5 percent. This extra return should be sought because a privately owned business is illiquid, which means you should be compensated for that illiquidity.

Frequently, the return on the business is dictated by the purchase price, which needs to be determined by evaluating the financial statements and operations. To determine whether to purchase a business and what to pay for it, you need to obtain the appropriate financial information from the existing business owner.

This should include income statements and balance sheets, income tax returns for the last three to five years, accounts receivable and payable records, leases held by the business, customer and supplier contracts, patent or trademark information, insurance policies and employee fringe benefits. If the seller doesn’t want to provide this, it’s best to walk away from the negotiating table.

Generally a full-scale audit should be considered. Under the best circumstances, it should be performed by an accounting firm with experience in that industry but which doesn’t have any ties to either the buyer or seller. The audit fee could be split by both parties.

Financials aside, try to gain insight into how the company is run by volunteering to work in the business for a week or two. Also ask customers, other business owners, and suppliers about the company’s reputation.

After all, when considering to buy a business, the more information you have, the better.

Louis P. Stanasolovich, CFP, named as one of the best financial advisers in America the last four years by Worth magazine, is founder and president of Legend Financial Advisors, Inc., a fee-only Securities and Exchange Commission registered investment advisory firm located in the North Hills. Legend provides asset management and comprehensive financial planning services to individuals and businesses. Reach him at (412) 635-9210. The firm’s Web address is www.legend-financial.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:48

Defying the chains

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It took 72 years to do it, but Community Market has finally decided to open a second location.

The owners of the landmark supermarket in Penn Hills and the operators of Giant Eagle stores in Verona and Oakmont are taking over the former Food Gallery in Fox Chapel.

In contrast to the Food Gallery, Community Market built its reputation with highly competitive pricing and powerful advertising, a strategy that, in part, has allowed it to survive the onslaught of the huge chains. Its owners say they have every intention of employing that same strategy for their newest location.

The Food Gallery, with four Pittsburgh area stores, found that it was becoming harder to compete with the large chain stores. But the Fox Chapel location, the new owners maintain, was profitable as a Food Gallery store.

“We’re very pleased to buy a successful operation like the Food Gallery in Fox Chapel,” says Jerry Rosenberg, one of the new owners.

The store was founded in 1927 by Lou Rosenberg. Rosenberg’s son, Jerry, says the 30,000-square-foot store won’t be enlarged, but it will have new dairy cases and freezers installed, improved lighting, wider aisles and a bigger staff.

Jerry Rosenberg’s son, Howard, and brother, Paul, also share in running the family business.

Time will tell if trendy Fox Chapel will take to an old stalwart like Community Market.

Ray Marano

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:47

Venture funding adventure

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In the best of all possible worlds, the jaw-dropping performance by the initial public offering of FreeMarkets Inc. at the end of 1999 would be a harbinger of things to come in a future dominated by high-tech high fliers.

While it’s unlikely we’ll see a host of other young companies become billion-dollar successes anytime soon, more than a handful of local upstarts have, nonetheless, shown a serious potential to take off into the economic stratosphere. So what’s the lesson for the region’s aspiring entrepreneurs looking to bring the next blockbuster to market?

“It will show that you don’t have to leave Pittsburgh to become a billion-dollar company,” says Ajmal Noorani, vice president of Mastech Corp. and manager of the founders’ new $50 million eVentures fund for Internet-oriented start-ups.

It may indeed be possible to create a billion-dollar company on your first stroll down Wall Street — but only with the right kind of business idea, sharp management and adequate financing. FreeMarkets’ meteoric rise would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, without the help of early-stage venture capital to develop its service, provide critical management expertise and demonstrate its promise for big returns to the first buyers of its stock.

Providers of that kind of risky investment capital finally appear to be gaining some level of comfort in this region. The managers of several homegrown funds, as well as those from outside the region, are beginning to see an alluring shade of green in the hills and valleys of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Another reason for the interest in local deals is that venture funds are once again flush with capital and looking outside the traditional geographical hotbeds to find places to invest.

“There’s so much competition and so much hype in the valley,” says Sean Sebastian, managing partner with Birchmere Investments, a $20 million early-stage venture fund started by wealthy steel industry entrepreneur Richard Simmons. Birchmere partners today can’t help but celebrate their success, thanks to their early investment in FreeMarkets. In fact, the fund still maintains holdings in a number of local start-ups, including CoManage, another company lining up for sizable entrepreneurial success.

Mastech created eVentures in 1999, and Lycos Ventures was launched in July in a partnership with Triangle Capital, headed by local entrepreneur and educator Don Jones. Redleaf Management, a $150 million Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, opened an office in Pittsburgh last year, and the Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund, led by Pitt professor and investor Richard Patton, mounted a second round of fund-raising last September.

And a rejuvenated Innovation Works, a retooling of the former Ben Franklin Technology Center, got a $6.6 million grant from the state, earmarked for parceling out in $100,000 to $500,000 bits to promising upstarts.

Enlightened self-interest

For funds such as eVentures, the objective is a symbiotic relationship among entrepreneurs, investors and Mastech. Investments in new companies will provide not only a speculative opportunity for gain which stems directly from their success, but also creation of entities that could use the kinds of services that Mastech can offer, as well.

In effect, Mastech will find new customers for its products by spawning new ventures and foster the development of businesses that can feed off of its client base by offering services they can use.

“We’re the smart money because we can understand the technology,” says Noorani.

Along the way, eVentures plans to provide the practiced guidance and mentoring that fledgling firms often need nearly as much as they need capital.

At the most fundamental level, Mastech is offering a select group of Carnegie Mellon University students, through the school’s entrepreneur-in-residence program, the opportunity to get their ventures off the ground. University seniors get a monthly stipend, office space and administrative support. In exchange, Mastech gets a guaranteed stake in the new company and reserves the right to participate in up to 20 percent of any future funding.

Redleaf, too, sees the value of adding operations, marketing and legal support to the cash it pours into promising ventures. The fund is establishing offices in locations such as Pittsburgh, which offers a core of high-tech companies, local support for their development and a strong university community.

“In addition to capital, Redleaf will offer a range of services, including operational support and a digital incubator systems integration capability to help seed-stage Internet firms mature into category winners,” says C. Lloyd Mahaffey, director of Redleaf’s Pittsburgh operations.

“Venture capital firms are spread thin, especially the top few,” says Ashok Trivedi, Mastech’s president and a co-founder with partner Sunil Wadhwani. “What start-ups need is a committed investor who has a strategic interest in the success of the company, and who has the expertise and deployment capabilities to help them scale up quickly.” How to reach: eVentures, www.mastech.com/eventures; Western Pennsylvania Adventure Capital Fund, www.wpacf.com; Redleaf Management, www.redleaf.com; Birchmere Investments, www.birchmere.net; Innovation Works, www.innovationworks.org

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:47

Reverse discrimination redux

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A recent federal court ruling may make it easier for employees to win reverse discrimination lawsuits. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a “heightened” standard adopted by many courts for people charging reverse discrimination and reinstated a white New Jersey postal worker’s suit alleging that he was passed over for promotion because of his race.

Under federal law, a member of a minority group or a woman can make an initial claim of discrimination by showing that he or she was turned down for a job which that person is qualified to do, and that the job remained open. The employer has to show its actions were based not on discrimination, but on legitimate business reasons.

Courts have generally held, however, that the person alleging reverse discrimination must first show background circumstances showing a bias against a majority group. That is, the plaintiff must initially show that the employer tends to discriminate against white people, and that discrimination motivated the employment decision.

The 3rd Circuit rejected such a disparity in placing the burden of proof, and called the background circumstances requirement vague and ill-defined. The court said that a plaintiff charging reverse discrimination need only show that the employer is treating some people less favorably than others based on race, color, sex, religion or national origin.

William E. Adams

One incident, one harassment case A federal court has ruled that one act of physical aggression by an employee can serve as the basis of a sexual harassment lawsuit — even in cases in which the employee committed no sexual misconduct.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit made the ruling in a case in which the defendant, a jail guard, allegedly battered a female officer at the jail in 1992. The victim’s arm was twisted so badly she needed surgery. Although no explicitly sexual contact occurred, the attacker did use gender-based epithets.

According to the panel’s majority opinion, the offensive conduct doesn’t necessarily have to be “inspired by sexual desire.” The panel cited the Supreme Court’s 1998 opinion in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc., in which the high court found that a claim identifying a workplace as a hostile environment need only be somehow related to the victim’s sex.

In the current case, the opinion said the defendant’s intent to discriminate was shown by his history of verbally abusing only female colleagues. Moreover, the defendant had never been disciplined, and it was the plaintiff, rather than the defendant, who was transferred to a job she deemed inferior.

A dissenting opinion said the case should have been handled as a case of assault, not a sexual discrimination case. A representative of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which handled the appeal for the defense, said a petition for rehearing will be filed shortly.

William E. Adams

Records: Keep or toss?You probably sometimes feel swamped by old records; other times, you’re terrified of throwing anything out. Here is a quick guide of what to keep and for how long:

Forever Never throw out tax records or related documents, mostly in case the IRS gets curious about them. This includes tax returns, correspondence relating to tax returns, audit reports, financial statements and legal correspondence. Also preserve eternally contracts, real estate transaction documents and leases, and corporate records, all of which may be needed in connection with lawsuits. With employment-related lawsuits increasingly common, keep employment-related records indefinitely.

Six years — Other records which relate to tax returns only need to be kept six years from the date of the return or the date the return is due, whichever is later. This includes financial records such as bank statements, deposit slips and sales records, employee expense records, including expense reports and supporting documentation, and income records such as W-2 and 1099 forms.

Three years — This group includes documents which can be tossed three years after the filing date or due date, whichever is later, of the associated tax returns. This includes canceled checks, paid invoices, payroll records and depreciation schedules, and other documents related to expenses, such as 1098s for mortgage interest received, receipts for charitable donations and real estate tax bills. Inventory records should be kept for at least three years, but much longer if your company uses last-in, first-out inventory accounting.

Eileen R. Sisca

Law briefs is compiled by attorneys from Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, a national law firm based in Pittsburgh.