By Sheila Pursglove
In fourth grade, John P. Hancock Jr. wrote an autobiography in which he declared his intention to be a lawyer.
"Despite the fact that for at least 13 generations in America, my branch of Hancocks has been farmers, there was never a doubt in my mind I was going to be a lawyer," he says. "What made me make that choice at age 9 other than watching episodes of the TV show 'Bachelor Father' with John Forsythe I don't know."
What made Hancock--a shareholder in Butzel Long's Detroit office and a past chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group - know he had made the right career choice were the constant intellectual challenges, the competitiveness of some parts of the law, the opportunity to solve problems and the fact that he likes people.
His practice focuses on collective bargaining negotiations and arbitrations as well as counseling of public and private employers. He has served as chief negotiator in numerous collective bargaining negotiations for public schools, municipal and public utilities as well as clients in various other businesses ranging from casinos to steel plants to hospitals and country clubs. A good portion of his practice is devoted to counseling clients on employment issues.
Hancock got into collective bargaining through two mentors at Butzel Long, Bill Saxton and Bob Battista.
"I had no prior contact at all with labor unions and the two of them got me interested and I've stayed interested," he says. "I think the challenge of getting an agreement between totally opposed parties and the negotiation and persuasion to get a contract, has continued to intrigue me. The other aspects such as counseling simply evolved with my contact with clients and the problems that arose, and it was something I relished."
He has done extensive employment litigation and OSHA litigation, starting back in 1975, when Saxton showed up at his door and told him there was a new law about safety and that Hancock needed to become an OSHA or MIOSHA lawyer as several clients needed advice.
His most interesting cases have involved sexual harassment matters "that might not be PG-rated," he says. His first trial involved a truck driver who was fired for exposing himself to a customer. Another involved a gender discrimination claim where the judge refused to continue after Hancock caught the plaintiff in a huge lie.
"The judge accused me of being Perry Mason and that was going to stop just as the trial did --and she forced plaintiffs to settle for much less than they asked."
Current challenges in employment law continue to be the discrimination cases, with the constant question of proof - did the employer take its action based on the employee's actions or their protected status, such as age, gender, race, or handicap.
"The recent revision of the Americans with Disabilities Act continues to make it more difficult for employers to avoid discrimination claims, as the Act greatly expanded the definition of handicapped and the employer's duty to accommodate," Hancock notes.
Over the last two years Hancock has done three interviews for Sirius radio, and close to 80 for other media including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Law 360, Reuters, AP, Al Jazeera, New York Times and more, on such wildly diverse topics as the NFL and NHL strike/lockout, gay marriage rights, NBA lockout, sports drug testing, Right to Work Laws, whistleblowers Act, Obamacare, drug testing of athletes, Chicago teacher strike, employees rights in bankruptcy, New York City bidding of school bus routes, New Orleans Saints bounty program, and more.
His most interesting interview was on live television for the Al Jazeera network in Qatar.
"I had earphones on and looked into a camera in a Southfield studio and it was supposed to be transmitted to the Middle East. The interview - about the NBA strike/lockout - was for their equivalent of ESPN and it had my picture and I was being translated into Arabic. It felt more like an interrogation than an interview and at one point they asked me who was more 'righteous,' the owners or the players--I said I'd never used that word to describe a labor dispute."
Author of numerous articles and a frequent lecturer on labor and employment related issues, Hancock also has overseen the development of Butzel Long's program of On-Site Seminars for Administrators and Supervisors in Labor and Employment Law.
"I developed the program about 25 years ago during a period of rising litigation, when several of my clients asked if there was something more proactive they could do than pay for litigation," he says.
He started with the explanation and training on the various laws and over the years branched out into "How to Create a Great Place to Work, "Anger Management," Dealing with Problem Employees," Workplace Violence," "Hiring the Best," Effective Supervision," "Managing Diversity," and numerous others.
"I've always enjoyed public speaking, and I've always enjoyed telling a good joke," he says. "I've always enjoyed dealing with people and providing information that will be helpful to them, and my lectures give me the chance to do all of this and get paid for it."
A past Chair of the State Bar of Michigan Labor and Employment Section, Hancock is a member of the American Bar Association, Detroit Bar Association, and Michigan Council of School Attorneys. He is a Fellow of The College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, a Fellow of the Michigan State Bar Foundation, a Board Member of the National Safety Council of Southeastern Michigan, and a member of the American Employment Law Council.
A native of western Kentucky with two sisters, two brothers, and 31 first cousins, Hancock hails from Waverly, a tiny town with a population of 345.
"We lived on a farm right outside of the town where we raised horses, cattle, and hogs," he says.
It was a far cry from the University of Notre Dame where he earned his undergrad degree, and from Duke University Law School. Hancock is currently in the midst of planning the annual reunion of six Notre Dame undergrad classmates, class of 70.
"We've been doing this for over 40 years--this year I'm the host and we're going to Torch Lake."
A resident of Grosse Pointe Park for 39 years, Hancock is single, and has three grown children, Rebecca 35, Shelley 30, and Jack 28, and three grandchildren, Kate, Lily, and George.
He enjoys dancing - and taught ballroom dance in high school - cooking and gardening, especially raising heirloom tomatoes from seed. He and his girlfriend, Cherie, love to travel and to visit lighthouses. He also plays golf; plays tennis every Sunday with a group of friends that have played together for 25 years; and played softball on the Butzel Long team until the age of 58. He spent 20 years heavily involved locally in coaching sports baseball, basketball, and softball.
"Our 1998 baseball team, which I coached, won the state Babe Ruth 13-year-old championship," he says. "I started coaching my brother when I was 19 and stopped coaching at 50."
He has served on the Oakland County Roundtable on Education and the Workforce for over 10 years.
"It's a unique opportunity to interact with a lot of very interesting involved individuals," he says. "It also gives me a chance, with all the other participants, to give input to a very enlightened leader in (County Executive) Brooks Patterson and to give something back to the community."
Published: Thu, Apr 18, 2013