Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Lessons from being sued

I always try and look at bad experiences as learning opportunities – whether it’s from an avoidable mistake or from factors outside of your control. How did you react? What actions did you take? What did this tell you about yourself? What would do differently in the future?

This year I am in a MUCH better state of mind (the broken leg coming out of my head is reset and feeling strong!). I’ve now had a chance to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned from repeatedly being sued.

Lesson 1: What doesn’t kill you, really can make you stronger

It seems clichéd, but traumatic experiences really do build your resilience. They may feel absolutely horrific at the time, but if you can come through them, you then have a muscle memory of how to deal with it.

Many years ago in my first HR Manager role, the MD’s strategy was to throw people in at the deep end. I ended up working 10 – 12 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week for many, many months to try and keep my head above water. Then I asked for one day off and he said no. I broke down and had to take a couple of weeks off work as I was so stressed. Years later when almost the same thing started to happen to me again, I was able to step back, say “nope, not doing that again” and resigned from the role.

Now that HRINZ have sued me twice (and are still continuing both legal cases) and I have had a breakdown from it, I not only understand the legal system but I can now also cope if I’m sued again. I’m now in a state where I’m not just trying to defend myself, but I can now fight back.

Lesson 2: Don’t forget the good

I did underestimate how small minded and scared people can be of change. But I also let those negative people stop me seeing the good that people can do, and how positivity can bring people together and take action.

Having counselling last year was invaluable for helping me realise this. My counsellor used ACT therapy and made me focus on the person I wanted to be, and what decisions I would make to move towards being that person. She also made me talk about the support networks I had and it made me remember that while there are some horrible HR people out there, there are also some brilliant, supportive, innovative, amazing ones too! And those positive people are the ones that keep you going.

Martin Luther King said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

I don’t hate the people suing me, nor do I hate everyone still in HRINZ giving them money to keep suing me – however I will now fight back as I think the behaviours they have demonstrated are wrong and people need to be held responsible. But I’m focusing on the positives that are happening and volunteering my time to the Association of People Professionals, who are trying to change things for the better.

Lesson 3: It’s not about the money

I have not enjoyed having to pay many tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. That’s not money I had lying around and has impacted on my life and our business. However this process has shown me it’s not about the money.

At one point HRINZ made us an offer to settle which they released publicly. Some of the terms included conditions around when Elephant might be allowed to advertise in the HR magazine, that Elephant would have to give HRINZ 14 days’ notice of running any competing activities with HRINZ, Elephant would have to meet with HRINZ monthly to discuss the agreement and issue a joint press release announcing amicable resolution of their differences. It also said I could become a HRINZ member again.

My barrister told me it would be a good financial decision to accept the offer. I told him that if I offered him $10,000 to go and punch someone in the face, that too would be a good financial decision – but you might not agree to it ethically. For a number of reasons I couldn’t accept the offer above. It may have cost me less legal fees in the long run, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself and that’s a pretty big cost to bear.

I realised that I would rather die poor, having stood up for what I believe, than live a little more comfortably, having forsaken all my beliefs.


These lessons may have been horrible to learn, but I feel much stronger and far more resilient for having learned them! Reflecting back also puts some closure on a really shitty period of my life and helps to focus on the future.

So if you’ve been through something awful – however strange it sounds – thinking about what it taught you, might make it feel a little more bearable.

I know in 2016 there will be more legal action and more challenges thrown at me, but I know I have a much larger toolbox to help me cope!

If you want to have a read of the related posts to this blog:

To check out what the Association of People Professionals is all about, visit

Angela Atkins is a best-selling author and business entrepreneur who has a passion for providing development and training for HR and people managers through the Management Bites programme, HR Conferences and other events  The contents of this blog are her personal opinion.

3 comments on “Lessons from being sued

  1. John Laurent
    April 18, 2016

    Being sued is certainly a horrible experience. Somehow you feel like you are being summoned to the head master’s office every hour and every minute.
    With a defamation case like this there is every incentive for the plaintiff rather than the defendent to settle out of court. Especially in the case of an organisation that purports to hold itself out as the exemplar of not bullying and fair treatment of people. The last thing HRINZ will want is to be exposed to public scrutiny in this area.The media would feed off this case.
    Best wishes, Angela, my thoughts are with you.

  2. lizziet
    April 21, 2016

    I just SO admire how you have handled this bullying and intimidation by HRINZ. Given that they are supposed to represent profdessional and best practice HR, it is just embarrassing.

  3. Pingback: Lessons from being sued – insideHR

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This entry was posted on April 18, 2016 by in human resources, mental health and tagged , .
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