Civil Procedure

Federal Judge's Footnote Hits Employment Lawyer for TMI in Legal Briefs

A federal judge has granted partial summary judgment to the Indiana State Department of Health in an employment discrimination case that takes the plaintiff’s lawyer to task for filing legal documents containing immaterial information.

The Legal Writing Prof Blog notes the November opinion (PDF) by U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt.

The suit by plaintiff Micah Williams, formerly division director of quality assurance at the health department, alleged he was the victim of illegal discrimination when his supervisor put mostly African-American employees under his supervision and proposed cutting his pay. He also alleged his employer retaliated after he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Pratt allowed the retaliation claim, based on Williams’ transfer to a new job after complaining of discrimination. “Following his transfer,” Pratt wrote, “Williams did not supervise any employees. In the fact section of his response, plaintiff’s counsel colorfully describes the new position as one ‘without apparent responsibilities, in the equivalent of a broom closet.’ ”

But Pratt wasn’t as happy with the prose by Williams’ lawyer, James Masur II, in documents that were supposed to identify factual disputes that would preclude summary judgment. “Plaintiff’s counsel needlessly complicated the court’s task of summarizing the relevant facts,” Pratt wrote in a footnote. “Rather than identifying potential factual disputes in a concise fashion, plaintiff’s counsel unfurled an 18-page narrative that is replete with argument and a 15-page surreply that is no better as it contains a great deal of immaterial information.”

The footnote cites examples from the plaintiff’s surreply (PDF). One sentence that irked the judge disputes defendants’ assertion that the plaintiff had not provided relevant references to the record. “There is no need to root around like a pig searching for a mushroom, only to use a mouse to click on the relevant portion of a deposition transcript,” the surreply says.

Another section cited by Pratt references Masur’s claim that his client was being used as a pawn to facilitate discrimination, in the manner of the cat’s paw fable. “For reasons that remain unclear,” Pratt wrote, “the brief devotes a paragraph to explaining the 15th century origin of the phrase ‘cat’s paw,’ a legal doctrine that is inapplicable to the present matter.”

Masur, an Indianapolis lawyer, represents both employers and employees. “Usually what I do when I get a decision from a judge is try to learn from it,” he told the ABA Journal.

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