When the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused Plano-based Rent-A-Center in 2016 of firing an employee because of a bias against transgender individuals, the lawsuit received national press, and company’s reputation was on the line. As Andrew Trusevich, Rent-A-Center’s senior vice president and assistant general counsel, saw it, the reputations of four employees were also in jeopardy. The EEOC accused them of conspiring to fire the transgender employee at one of the company’s Illinois locations and “labeled them bigots, co-conspirators, and liars,” recalls Trusevich, who has spent 10 years of his 26-year legal career with the company.
Rent-A-Center said the employee was fired for unauthorized use of a company truck for personal use. Trusevich, who tries his own cases, says the company never offered any money to settle, He worked on the matter for two years, taking depositions around the country, before finally teeing it up at trial this past May. “In my closing argument, I got a little choked up and I reminded the jurors of the movie, A Civil Action, with John Travolta, who said, ‘If lawyers didn’t care about their clients, then why do they keep them up at night?’”
It was the first EEOC case of its kind to reach a jury. After a five-day trial in an Illinois federal court, the eight-member jury found for the company and unanimously decided that the employee’s transgender status was not a motivating factor in the decision to fire her. “I worked very hard to clear their names, and I did,” Trusevich says of his Rent-A-Center colleagues.
Another recent case saw Trusevich recouping close to a million dollars for Rent-A-Center in a vendor dispute. He also handled a variety of corporate tasking, including taking on the role of interim head of Rent-A-Center’s human resources department. “This gave me a great opportunity to restructure the department from the perspective of a labor and employment attorney,” he says. Among the changes he instituted was the establishment of a women’s leadership committee and mentoring program with an annual leadership summit.
“By being a corporate attorney, one can really be much more proactive in trying to prevent litigation,” says Trusevich, who earned his law degree at Baylor. “Being in-house offers a great opportunity to be creative in finding ways to reduce litigation risks.”