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Suing Sykes has become lawyer's specialty

Published September 6, 2004

John Gosbee says he's best known for fighting shady debt collectors. But the Mandan, N.D., lawyer appears to be developing a backup specialty: suing Sykes Enterprises.

What makes Gosbee's docket even more intriguing is his resume. He worked at Sykes' Bismarck, N.D., call center for more than five years before being laid off in 2003.

Gosbee says he has filed three lawsuits against Sykes, a Tampa company that handles customer phone calls for clients like Microsoft and SBC Communications.

One concerns a South Dakota National Guard member who claims the company illegally tried to avoid rehiring him after he returned from Kuwait and Iraq; a second National Guard member is seeking to join the suit. Two other complaints, filed on behalf of another former employee, accuse Sykes of not accommodating her blindness and of lying about whether she was entitled to workers' compensation after she slipped and fell in its Bismarck parking lot.

Sykes has four lawyers working on the National Guard lawsuit, including two from Tampa's Constangy Brooks & Smith. But the company also is waging a media battle.

It hired Tampa public relations executive Jeff Tucker to control damage from the National Guard lawsuit. Tucker delivered, saying in an interview that Gosbee is a "great promoter" and arguing that the lawsuit is much ado about nothing, given that Sykes eventually rehired both men.

"I don't know why you all think this is a story," he says. "What's the beef?"

Even Gosbee says it's hard to imagine why Sykes would stiff a couple of vets. The only possible explanation he could come up with was that Sykes wanted to save money by hiring entry-level workers. "I don't think they woke up one morning and said, "Let's go after Dutch veterans,' " he says.

But asked whether the two National Guard members were happy with their current jobs at Sykes, Gosbee showed that he, too, can sling the mud.

"As happy as anybody can be at what's essentially a pretty crummy job," he says.

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