The Columbus federal judge shares his thoughts on employment law issues.

Employment law is a mine field of hot-button issues. From the opioid crisis to guns in the workplace to the #MeToo movement, businesses are trying to navigate this tricky landscape. During a May 1 seminar hosted by the law firm Fisher Phillips at Ohio State University’s Fawcett Center, U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley took on these topics and others. And the Columbus federal jurist, who was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton in 1997, didn’t hold back, declaring guns “the scourge of society” and citing #MeToo as an example of “chickens coming home to roost.”

“You have an interesting job in some very interesting and changing times,” Marbley told the audience of lawyers, business owners and human resource executives, as he was interviewed by Steven Loewengart, the regional managing partner at Fisher Phillips’ Columbus office. “It’s a dynamic environment in which you find yourselves now, and if I was an HR professional, I would look at it as a time to rewrite the script and do some very positive things to ensure that I have a workforce that’s productive and efficient and can do well.”

Here are some excerpts from Marbley’s talk:

On the similarities between employment and domestic legal disputes: “I don’t know how many of you have ever been in my court or a settlement conference, but employment law is the closest I’ve come to having a domestic relations practice. I always have an HR director who says, ‘I don’t care what happens. I’m not giving that fill-in-the-blank a dime.’ And then I have the employee who says, ‘I don’t care what happens. I’ve given these people the best years of my life and now they’re kicking me to the curb.’ … It becomes far more personal, the litigation, than any other type of litigation.” Marbley says that personalization, in fact, can lead to mistakes by HR professionals, who should think “globally” and put their biases aside. “Your effectiveness is directly correlated to your objectivity.”

On the limitations of lawyers: Marbley says lawyers don’t win cases; facts do. “If your case has bad facts—but you’re thinking you have the world’s best lawyer—the jury is going to see behind the legal sophistry. My courtroom operates in the world of objective facts, and [juries] want to get it right. So if you know that is going wrong, cut your losses at the settlement conference because Loewengart [the interviewer] is an outstanding lawyer, but he’s not a miracle worker. When you have bad facts, go to trial and lose, don’t look at him or don’t look at the other lawyer and say, ‘She was just better.’ No, it’s facts. I’m a firm believer in that after 21 years and over 120 or so jury trials.”

On #MeToo’s impact on business: “The chickens have come home to roost, and that’s where we are now. Some companies can get out ahead of it. If you know that a particular part of your company has had a persistent problem, then you need to get ahead of it and be proactive and institute training and institute guidelines and change the culture because if you don’t, then the bottom line will be affected.”

On the opioid epidemic and business: “The silver lining in the opioid crisis is that it’s being recognized as a health pandemic. If you’ll recall that … when crack was all the rage, it was treated as a criminal pandemic.” That means, when possible, businesses should treat employees with addictions as they typically treat employees with other health challenges, Marbley says. “I don’t have the magic bullet, but I think that tolerance, understanding and treating someone as though he or she had a health problem is a good beginning.”

On guns in the workplace: “I think that handguns are the scourge of society. I see it in context with what I do. I see how it ruins lives. … We have all these shootings, and so politics said we need more guns. We need to give them to teachers and give them to employers, and that’s the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard. I say that as a citizen. You don’t need to be brilliant to realize that. It goes back to the classic definition of insanity: You keep repeating the same thing and expecting a different result.”