TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]
I own a small business, and a former customer has brought a legal claim against it. The complaint is completely false, but proving this in court would be costly to the point that my business might not even survive. My lawyer says I must settle with the complainant, though to do so is basically an admission of guilt. Should I fight for justice or protect my business by settling?
I’m sorry you’re facing such injustice. We live in a litigious age, and people sue for any and all (or no) reasons. According to Psalm 16:6, God places our boundaries in good places and works for our flourishing, not floundering. For her part, your lawyer is trying to protect your business and find an efficient way forward, minimizing costs and damages. That is her or his obligation. The aim here is prudence, not ethical compromise (Prov. 2:1–9).
During my decades of pastoral care for congregants in business, I’ve listened to many similar stories and walked with sisters and brothers experiencing the frustrations you’re feeling. It’s unnerving to see such a lack of conscience and reasonableness on the part of the opponents. Sometimes they’re deeply wounded people expressing their hurt by hurting others. Other times, sinfulness reigns, and they have no problem extorting wealth from others.
One business leader in a larger firm in the high-tech field had weathered over 70 lawsuits without a single loss and few settlements. I asked him if there was any way to avoid such conflict. With sadness in his voice, he said no. He observed, “Too many selfish people are easily offended and think the mere threat of legal action will gain them money they have not earned.” Other smaller proprietors I pastored shared similar stories. You’re part of a large community of godly business leaders facing such challenges.
No Admission of Guilt
First, let’s be honest about the anger and frustration you feel at this moment. These are not sinful passions at this point—they represent righteous indignation. Please allow God’s Word, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the goodness of trusted family and friends to bring deep inner comfort and peace. The Lord can replace your anger with peace and prayers for the person persecuting you. To be clear, this is not excusing sin: it’s asking Christ to show mercy to a sinner, just as you have received mercy. Forgiveness is not ignoring the transgressions—it’s a divine grace that desires mercy for the offender (Matt. 5:21–26, 38–42; Matt. 6:14–15).
Forgiveness is not ignoring the transgressions—it’s a divine grace that desires mercy for the offender.
With this interior foundation, you can now decide on the best course of action. The point of discernment here is the admission of guilt. If you didn’t do anything wrong, then it would be lying to admit that you did. It’s possible to settle a lawsuit with integrity if you don’t admit to wrongdoing. Ask your attorney about a clear statement that the settlement is not an admission of guilt but instead done purely to avoid the cost and uncertainty of continued litigation.
Often settlements are reached that include no admission of guilt and non-disclosure agreements from the parties involved. If the customer is willing to keep the issues private and accept a modest settlement with no guilt on your part, then your business goes forward with a bit of scar tissue, but no fatal wounds. You can settle if there are clear boundaries and you won’t be subject to future accusations online or anywhere else.
Fighting in Court
If the former customer won’t agree to a modest settlement with no guilt and clear restrictions on public communication, there’s a way to fight for justice and continue your business. I do hope you’re incorporated or have an LLC in place. This way, your opponent can only come after assets connected with the business, thus protecting your personal ones.
If these protections aren’t in place, you can set a budget for litigation and go forward with your quest for justice. While the costs may end the current business, you can consider starting a new one (with the protections above), contacting customers and partners, and continuing your good work while the “old” one is ending.
I’m confident in the Lord’s leading for your situation. According to Philippians 1:9–11, as we’re filled with love and righteousness, we’ll be able to discern the best way forward. James 1:5 promises wisdom for the devoted. And Psalms 37 and 73 offer pathways of lament and hope. We can complain to God about the unfairness of the wicked thriving (Ps. 73:1–16). Then as we still our hearts in our inner sanctuary, we gain an eternal perspective (Ps. 73:17–28). While we wrestle with these issues, the Lord helps us stay steady amid our trials (Ps. 37).
May you know God’s abiding peace and presence in this moment.