Kate Sigman 1 HERO

Duke’s Steady Legal Hand Bids Farewell

It’s fair to say that most of the time when HR professionals and lawyers find themselves working together on something, things have gotten complicated.

Since 1987, when those often delicate and important situations have arisen, Kate Hendricks, Duke’s deputy general counsel for labor and employment, has been at the table, providing associates with wisdom from her deep legal experience and reassurance through her innate calm confidence.

“She has a way of keeping everyone level,” said Duke Health System’s Chief Human Resources Officer and Senior Vice President Rhonda Brandon, who often works with Hendricks. “It’s like when you’re on a plane and you hit turbulence. If you look at the flight attendant and they’re doing well, you know you’re going to be okay.”

Kate Hendricks

At the end of December 2022, Hendricks will retire from the place of which she has been an important part for three and a half decades. She will leave behind an institution frequently cited as a best place to work, and a network of colleagues and associates who have benefited from her understanding of the law, her knowledge of Duke, and her commitment to the people who serve it. let go .

“For the relationships between Duke’s employees and the institution, between its faculty and its students, and between Duke and anyone who relies on us, trust and respect are core components,” said Leigh Goller, Duke’s chief audit, risk and compliance officer. “Kate has been a faithful steward of both.”

While some work involved student issues, research collaborations and trademarks, most of Hendricks’ focus was on employment and labor laws. With her sharp memory and deep experience, she helped guide Duke leaders toward solutions in often complex—and usually confidential—situations involving workplace policies, employment misconduct and union negotiations.

“We are lawyers, we are here to provide the best legal advice to Duke,” Hendricks said. “And we’re best served by having a moral compass and making sure we treat people fairly. You can focus on the laws and regulations, and the like, but ultimately Duke will be best served by treating its employees, its students, and others fairly. You have to keep that bigger picture in mind.”

Kate HendricksA native of Jackson, Mississippi, Hendricks first came to Duke as a student at the Duke University School of Law. After graduating in 1983, she spent four years in private practice in Washington, DC for a firm that occasionally worked for Duke.

“When I would work on our Duke cases, I kept thinking, ‘You know, I really like it down here,'” Hendricks said. “When a job opportunity became available at Duke, I jumped at it and never looked back.”

In 1987, Hendricks joined Duke’s team of about half a dozen attorneys working in the lower level of the Allen Building. At the time, Duke’s workforce was less than half the size it is now, it operated just one hospital and its world-class research operations were still taking shape.

In the decades ahead, the Duke Office of Counsel grew from a handful of attorneys to more than 20 and Hendricks’ workspace moved from the Allen Building, to North Pavilion and eventually the American Tobacco Campus. Along the way, she gathered stories and experiences that made her a valuable asset to her colleagues, who sought her guidance when facing complex issues.

“You can sit down with Kate and start talking about a situation and she will slowly remove her glasses and tell you about cases she remembers from years ago,” Duke interim vice president for human resources Antwan Lofton said. “She goes all the way back to the 1980s and can tell you the names of cases, and who was in the meetings. You can’t replace it.”

While she has seen tremendous change during her time at Duke, Hendricks is encouraged by the fact that the core values ​​of respect and trust have remained constant. That quality is what has kept her at Duke and something she expects will continue long after her job is done.

“The people I’ve worked with at Duke have always been committed to treating people fairly,” Hendricks said. “If we didn’t share the same set of values, I’m not sure I would have been here this long. But that moral compass, I felt it when I first arrived here and feel it to this day.”

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