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Fox blazes legal trails

By: Jane Pribek//February 16, 2012//

Fox blazes legal trails

By: Jane Pribek//February 16, 2012//

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The modifiers “ground-breaking,” “high-profile” and “big-money” often are used to describe Madison lawyer Michael Fox’s cases.

Frequently, all three apply to the same case.

Among his first successes was a 1982 federal court sexual harassment case brought by a male plaintiff against the State of Wisconsin in Huebschen v. Department of Health and Social Services.

“I tried the case only because there was no offer,” Fox recalled with a laugh. The jury returned a verdict of more than $200,000.

Not long after came Zabcowicz v. West Bend, later cited by the U.S. Supreme Court when it ruled that sexual harassment was a violation of Title VII. At the time, compensatory damages were unavailable. Fox and Zabcowicz testified before a congressional committee in 1990, resulting in lawmakers expanding the Title VII remedies.

Then in 1998, he represented the widow and estate of Tom Monfils, who reported a theft at the paper mill where he worked. The police promised anonymity, but his identity instead was revealed. Monfils later was murdered by co-workers. The case introduced the “state-created danger” theory.

Another significant outcome took place in 2005, when a jury awarded $1.4 million in punitive damages, plus compensatory damages and reinstatement, for workplace ethnicity discrimination against his Muslim/Lebanese client in Elestwani v. Nicolet.

Recently, in December 2011 in Dubin v. MATC-Madison, Fox’s college-professor client was awarded more than $1 million plus reinstatement in a lawsuit that hinged on “cat’s paw” liability. That doctrine first was recognized in 1990 by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Shager v. Upjohn, adopting Fox’s argument.

Presently, Fox is representing a domestic abuse victim in her civil lawsuit alleging sexual harassment after being propositioned by “sexting D.A.” Ken Kratz. The case already has survived a motion to dismiss on immunity grounds, and he’s preparing for trial.

“I like very much to talk to juries, even though I am shy and private by nature,”
Fox said. “I very much believe they’ll do the right thing if I do my job.”
Milwaukee attorney Walt Kelly lauds Fox as a leader in employee-related cases.
“Mike has been a path-breaker for employees in the toughest kinds of cases, such as whistle-blowing, sex harassment, race discrimination and workplace violence,” he said. “At the same time, he has generously shared his knowledge and skills as a superb trial lawyer, continuing legal educator and private attorney general. His colleagues hold him in the highest regard.”

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