Posts Tagged ‘summary judgement’
Monday, August 3rd, 2015
Workplace bullying is endemic in healthcare and education, including higher education, for reasons discussed elsewhere at the WBI website.
Now comes a story of an inept community college administration, at Weatherford College, unwilling to even consider complaints from a long-time faculty member. Professor Karen Lopez Austen about the abusive conduct she faced in the Athletics Department.
The WBI 2014 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey revealed that most employers deny complaints or justify them. In Austen’s case, they never considered the evidence she had assembled for the Board. An outsider can easily infer that the Administration, led by Kevin Eaton, had decided to not renew Dr. Austen’s contract, despite the legitimacy of her complaint.
So, as was her right, Dr. Austen filed a civil suit claiming sex and ethnicity discrimination along with retaliation for daring to hold the college accountable to operate lawfully and according to internal policies. She probably, like most bullied targets, especially highly educated individuals, expected to find justice in court. We constantly warn targets that justice is rarely found and almost never in court.
Remember, the college administrators refused to hear her complaint. The trial court judge did not allow Dr. Austen her day in court. Judges possess ultimate authority to grant access to their courts.
Judges have two avenues to end cases before they start — dismissal or summary judgement. Targets are typically plaintiffs who sue their employers, the defense. The defense files the motion to dismiss. Dismissal is based on technical details of the case that have not been addressed ensuring that the law cannot relieve the problem — e.g., “including lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, improper venue, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or failure to join a necessary party.”
When the defense files a motion for summary judgement, it is saying that if the parties don’t dispute the material facts of the case, then the judge can determine whether the defendant is liable based simply on the pre-trial evidence assembled, if any exists. In the case Austen v. Weatherford College, there was no such agreement. The civil case was all about the disputed facts. The college said nothing happened. Dr. Austen said otherwise. Guess what. The judge in Federal District Court agreed with the college and threw out the case based on summary judgement.
In most cases, financially strapped terminated and unemployed targets go no further. But Dr. Austen filed an appeal with the federal Fifth Circuit. It was no surprise that the Appellate Court upheld (agreed with) the pro-administration ruling of summary judgement. Remember, no entity had yet considered the evidence that plaintiff Austen had put together to prove her complaint of discrimination.
Austen’s attorney, Mark Robinett, at the Austin Texas firm of Brim, Arnett & Robinett. P.C., was shocked by the 5th Circuit Court’s ruling. What he found appalling was that his client’s evidence did not matter. In a general letter to the public, attorney Robinett wrote:
… the Court of Appeals held that her evidence did not matter, that she had failed to present a “prima facie” case or “rebut the legitimate reasons for termination (sic nonrenewal) offered by the college. The court also holds, as if it has some basis for making a fact finding (which is a “no-no” for an appellate court) that “(t)he six serious, documented instances of misconduct from the semester after the settlement agreement were the primary reasons for termination (sic nonrenewal).
Robinett, quoting the appellate court’s ruling stated
What matters is not the truth of the underlying complaints and reports, however, but rather whether the college could legitimately have relied on them in deciding to terminate Austen. The college could do so.
In fact, the college president, Eaton, mis-characterized Dr. Austen’s complaint to the Board. The Board never heard Austen’s perspective.
The injustices Austen faced was compounded by the 5th Circuit with its pro-institutional bias that claimed evidence did not matter. Robinett concluded that the court was doing a trial jury’s job without the benefit of live testimony or assessing the credibility of the Weatherford College administrators.
Read Attorney Robinett’s letter countering the assertion that Dr. Austen was not renewed for just reasons. She never got to tell her side of the story to an impartial court.
Justice in America?