Tuesday, October 13, 2009

California Appeals Court Overturns "Objectionable" Employment Discrimination Decision

California As reported by California Case Law (via a tip by friend of the blog, Jack Sargent), the imponderable case of Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc., No. A121651 (Cal. App. Ct. October 8, 2009):

In plaintiff's race, employment discrimination lawsuit against United Airlines, trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants is reversed as to eight causes of actions as they must be decided by the jury.  Furthermore, the trial court's order sustaining  763 of 764 of defendant's objections was a manifest abuse of discretion.

I can only do this case justice by stating precisely some of the court's decision. This is all takes place in the context of a rather ordinary race discrimination in employment claim:

At the same time, the summary judgment procedure has become the target of criticism on a number of fronts.  Some particular criticism is directed to the procedure in employment litigation, including that it is being abused, especially by deep pocket defendants to overwhelm less well‑funded litigants.  More significantly, it has been said that courts are sometimes making determinations properly reserved for the factfinder, sometimes drawing inferences in the employer’s favor, sometimes requiring the employees to essentially prove their case at the summary judgment stage.  Here we confront the poster child for such criticism, in a case involving what may well be the most oppressive motion ever presented to a superior court . . . .

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment/summary adjudication, seeking adjudication of 44 issues, most of which were not proper subjects of adjudication.  Defendants’ separate statement was 196 pages long, setting forth hundreds of facts, many of them not material—as defendants’ own papers conceded.  And the moving papers concluded with a request for judicial notice of 174 pages.  All told, defendants’ moving papers were 1056 pages.

Plaintiff’s opposition was almost three times as long, including an 1894-page separate statement, papers the trial court would later disparage as “mostly verbiage,” a description with which, as will be seen, we disagree.  Curiously, no such criticism was leveled at defendants’ papers, not even those in reply, papers that defy description.

Defendants’ reply included, and properly, their response to plaintiff’s additional disputed facts.  Defendants’ reply also included, not so properly, a 297-page “Reply Separate Statement” and 153 pages of “Exhibits and Evidence in Support of Defendants’ Reply.”  And the reply culminated with 324 pages of evidentiary objections, consisting of 764 specific objections, 325 of which were directed to portions of plaintiff’s declaration, many of which objections were frivolous.  In all, defendants filed 1150 pages of reply.

Five thousand, four hundred, fifteen pages of material were before the trial court which, following argument, issued its order granting summary judgment, the substance of which order began as follows:

“Upon due consideration . . . and having taken the matter under submission,  [¶] The Court finds as follows:  [¶] Despite its girth, Plaintiff’s opposition to the separate statement of material facts is mostly verbiage, and utterly lacking in the identification and presentation of evidence demonstrating a disputed issue of fact.”  There followed several pages of discussion which did not consider the evidence favorably to plaintiff, as the law requires.  Then, after granting summary judgment, the order ends with these two one‑sentence rulings:

“2.    Plaintiff’s 47 evidentiary objections are OVERRULED.

“3.    Defendants’ evidentiary objection No. 27 is OVERRULED, and the remainder of the Defendants’ evidentiary objections are SUSTAINED.” . . . .

We have referred to the misleading picture painted by the mass of paper before the trial court, and to the error that resulted.  And the two are undoubtedly related, as what apparently happened is that the trial court did not read all the papers, shown, for example, by the facts that it sustained “objections” to evidence where no objection was set forth and saw a “physical assault” of Avellan despite all the evidence of “arm wrestling.”  While not reading the papers cannot be condoned, it can perhaps be understood, as we hesitate to speculate how long it would take a trial court to meaningfully digest over 2200 pages of separate statements, analyze and rule on 764 objections set out in 325 pages, review it all in light of the applicable law, and then write a proper order. 

The incredible volume of material here simply has no place in a system where overburdened trial courts labor long and hard.  Thus, we conclude with some guidance in the event a trial court is ever again confronted with anything remotely close to that here.

Needless to say, the appellate courts rips the lawyers and the trial court another you-know-what.  This case is an evidence/employment discrimination law professor dream and why people like Walter Olson rightly believe in some cases that litigation is just plain overlawyered.

I can't imagine being the lawyers involved in this case and the shame that will inevitably come with being associated with a name that is just too closely related to the word, "nadir," as in the nadir of all litigation.

Really, read the whole opinion.

PS

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/laborprof_blog/2009/10/california-appeals-court-overturns-objectionable-employer-discrimination-decision.html

Employment Discrimination | Permalink

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Comments

This opinion will remain a one-hit wonder, unless the judges or the California Assembly reform the rules themselves, which they will only do if their convinced that they're failing.

It made a significant difference when the Judicial Conference and U.S. Supreme Court amended Rule 11 in the 1980s to make the sanctions mandatory. After a big spike in motions, the judges threw up their hands and then reversed course to provide a safe harbor. The number of filings then plunged.

Posted by: Paul Mollica | Oct 14, 2009 9:43:01 AM

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