Respected judge’s view on discovery is dangerous and wrong

A highly respected judge serving on the Third Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals recently told the crowd at the 2018 Federalist Society Convention: "If I were able to do something unilaterally, I would probably institute a new federal rule that said that all cases worth less than $500,000 will be tried without any discovery." The audience applauded. A fellow panelist, Judge Amul Thapar of the 6th Circuit, chimed in, "Can I say amen?" These judges are wrong. Their views on discovery, if sincerely held, are dangerous. Congress chose private parties - acting as private attorneys general - to enforce the laws requiring employers to pay what they owe and to treat people equally at work. Congress enacted fee-shifting rules to ensure lawyers would accept and litigate "small" cases - cases where the economic losses are less than $500,000 - because the social policies behind the laws are so important. Many economists would also argue that a $500,000 case to someone making $50,000 a year is much more important than a $50 Million case to Comcast, Apple, Amazon or GE. When a case begins, the employer controls the witnesses, the documents, the emails, everything. Denying discovery would make cases that are...

Crediting non-discriminatory reasons

The judicial function at the summary judgment stage is to decide whether a jury could reasonably find in the employee's favor on the claim at issue. In making its decision, a court follows certain rules. One such rule is that the record must be examined as a whole. Another is that inferences must be drawn in the employee's favor. And another is that the court may not make credibility determinations. Too often, however, courts focus on select pieces of the record to the exclusion of others, draw inferences in the employer's favor, and make credibility determinations that favor the employer. The result can be dismissal even where the employee has produced powerful evidence of discrimination. These dismissals frequently occur under the cover of "but-for" causation, the causation standard applicable in federal age cases and non-age cases involving retaliation (other than SOX cases).Consider an example involving a 62 year-old employee who was terminated without warning after 30 years of good performance. The employee testifies that his relatively new 44 year-old supervisor, the decisionmaker, consistently called him an "old fart" and said he should "retire because he is old" and because he needed to "make room for new, young talent." The employee...

Discrimination at its essence

The Third Circuit's recent decision in Hassan v. City of New York, --- F.3d ---, 2015 WL 5933354 is a welcome reminder that the Court understands the real harm inflicted by discrimination. Discrimination is not, and I repeat not, principally an economic tort. Economic losses often result from discriminatory decisions, but discrimination is more about the dignitary - some would say spiritual - injury inflicted when one is judged or treated differently because of skin color, race, age, gender or religion.The plaintiffs in Hassan claimed that they were targets of a wide-ranging surveillance program that the New York City Police Department (the “NYPD”) began in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (the “Program”). They alleged that the Program was based on the false and stigmatizing premise that Muslim religious identity “is a permissible proxy for criminality, and that Muslim individuals, businesses, and institutions can therefore be subject to pervasive surveillance not visited upon individuals, businesses, and institutions of any other religious faith or the public at large.” They sued “to affirm the principle that individuals may not be singled out for intrusive investigation and pervasive surveillance that cause them continuing harm simply because they profess a certain faith.” The...