December 19th, 2012

Does the Minneapolis Convention Center discriminate against employees on the basis of race and age? The opportunity to test that theory in court has gone by the wayside thanks to sloppy legal paperwork and a series of missed deadlines in a discrimination suit filed by six employees, five of whom are black, and one of whom is Indian. Two of the plaintiffs are also disabled. The mistakes were all made by the plaintiff’s attorney, who will not be named here. But the story is a cautionary tale and a warning; before filing a lawsuit, find an attorney who can do the job right.

A quick read of court documents lays out the case and also highlights all the errors. The lawsuit alleges a hostile work environment fraught with racial, age and gender-related slurs, racial profiling and retaliation. The plaintiffs say their work assignments were unfairly and arbitrarily changed, and “trivial” offenses resulted in harsh discipline, as well as terminations for five of the six. The at-times colorful language in one court document describes the defendants variously as the “City (of Minneapolis) and its all-white/European male management team” and a “white, good ol’ boy network,” and accused them of disciplining the plaintiffs for “taking a work break while black.” Provocative language in a legal brief is usually acceptable but leaving key parts of the document blank are not, and that is one reason the lawsuit was thrown out of court.

When lawyers make arguments on paper they have to include citations, which are references for the reader that show where the information came from. Legal citations are complex things full of abbreviations and usually there are a lot of them. In this case, the plaintiff’s lawyer left dozens of citations blank, a move guaranteed to make a judge unhappy. And she wasn’t. In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge laid out a laundry list of problems including violations of court procedures, the incomplete sentences noted above, arguments and anecdotes not supported by evidence, late and incomplete responses to requests for documents, not producing an expert witness list on time, and missing a pretrial conference. The judge hammered in the final nail by suggesting the attorney review the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

Unbowed and unbroken, the plaintiff’s attorney called himself a “brilliant attorney” and accused the judge of trying to avoid a trial. “They don’t want to have a trial in court anymore,” he said. “They want a paper case.” He is appealing the dismissal.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Judge dismisses Mpls. Convention Center bias case,” Steve Brandt, Dec. 13, 2012.

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