Law Practice Management

Last-Minute Call re EEOC Matter Results in New Litigation Battle for Employment Lawyer

When a would-be client called James L. Arruebarrena as a mediation conference was about to occur in her federal employment discrimination administrative complaint, the New Orleans employment practitioner says he leapt into action.

Although he couldn’t attend the conference personally, which was being held in Texas, on such short notice, he agreed to do so by telephone, faxing the woman a representation agreement and taking her word that she’d emailed it back. And, in part because he’s well-known in the field, Arruebarrena and an associate were able to obtain a $100,000 settlement agreement on Cherie Garman’s behalf after a marathon five-hour phone conversation, which is “a fairly high amount” for a settlement, in Louisiana, of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission matter, he tells the ABA Journal.

When it came time for the settlement to be paid, however, Garman protested, saying that she’d had a conversation with Arruebarrena’s law firm but never agreed to let it represent her in her race and gender discrimination complaint against a former employer. His law firm sued her in state court in May, for breach of contract and fraud, seeking payment of a $40,000 contingency fee, according to Arruebarrena.

And now Garman has filed suit against Arruebarrena, as well as her former employer, Helix Energy Solutions Group, and the EEOC. Filed last month in federal court in New Orleans, it contends that the law firm interfered with her settlement agreement without authorization, the Louisiana Record reports.

Garman is seeking a stay of the Orleans Parish District Court breach of contract case, or that it be combined with her federal case, as well as damages, attorney’ fees and costs.

While, in hindsight, it would have been better to have put the conference call on hold while the receipt of Garman’s signed representation agreement was confirmed, “it’s one of the things that happens in combat, in the middle of the battle,” Arruebarrena says.

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