Gender Bias in the Legal Profession

A recent headline in a Los Angeles legal journal reads: “Los Angeles lawyers . . . provide an overview of new legislation in California designed to insure reduction of sexual harassment occurrences in the workplace.”  Think about that.  Legislation will insure reduction of incidents of workplace harassment.  Granted, this is just the headline on the cover of the publication; the authors recognize it’s not the legislation that has any effect on behavior.  Rather, as they point out, “reducing harassment on the job demands strong policies, diligent training, and accountability.”  All the legislation does is ensure that lawyers representing employees and employers as well as neutrals, arbitrating and mediating harassment cases will continue to have plenty of work.

The major piece of legislation at issue is Senate Bill 1300 which, in 2019, added Government Code Section 12923 to the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  The statute contains legislative declarations that “ a single incident of harassing conduct is sufficient to create a triable issue regarding the existence of a hostile work environment;” “a discriminatory remark, even if not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a nondecisionmaker, may be relevant, circumstantial evidence of discrimination;” “it is irrelevant that a particular occupation may have been characterized by a greater frequency of sexually related commentary or conduct in the past;” and “Harassment cases are rarely appropriate for disposition on summary judgment.”

Other legislation passed last year expanded the classes of professionals subject to liability for sexual harassment; extended the time within which such claims must be filed; lowered the employee threshold from fifty to five (including temporary employees) for employers required to provide sexual harassment training; prohibited nondisclosure language in settlement agreements where the language precludes employees from disclosing factual information pertaining to sexual harassment lawsuits; and declaring unenforceable nondisclosure language regarding alleged criminal conduct or sexual harassment in administrative, legislative, or judicial proceedings.  

With the exception of the training requirement, none of this legislation is likely to change anyone’s behavior.  Employers across the country have been dealing with workplace harassment claims for decades now, revising policies, spending money on required training, hiring independent workplace investigators.  To what end?  According to an article entitled Sexual harassment: Have we made any progress?  Quick, J. C., & McFadyen, M. A. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 286–298 (2017), results of efforts over the past twenty years to reduce what the authors call “a continuing, chronic occupational health problem in organizations and work environments” have been “mixed.”  This should come as no surprise.  Most adults spend more time at work than they do any other single place.  And, to paraphrase the old adage: “People will be people.”

A good place to start trying to effect change is in our own profession.  Because we lawyers love our pretentious Latin phrases, the applicable one here is:  Medice, cura te ipsum.  

Let’s start with addressing blatant gender bias among attorneys and judges.  Catchpole v. Brannon (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 237 is, perhaps, the most notorious example of judicial bias in a reported sexual harassment case.  In that case, the trial judge repeatedly demonstrated impatience with the proceedings, “which conveyed the sense he considered sexual harassment cases ‘detrimental to everyone concerned’ and a misuse of the judicial system.”  Moreover, the court concluded that the accuser was not believable, based “on stereotyped thinking about women and misconceptions of the social and economic realities many women confront.”  The Appellate Court concluded that the trial judge manifested “a predetermined disposition to rule against appellant based on her status as a woman” and that his “expressed hostility to sexual harassment cases and the stereotypical attitudes and misconceptions he adopted provide a reasonable person ample basis upon which to doubt whether appellant received a fair trial.”

Last year, a generation after Catchpole, the Commission on Judicial Performance removed Judge John Laettner from the bench noting: “the judge’s pattern of inappropriate comments to and about women, including female attorneys and other women who appeared or worked in his courtroom, reflected gender bias and was prejudicial misconduct and improper action.”  According to the opinion, disqualifying him from serving as a judicial officer, “Judge Laettner claims that he did not know that comments about the physical appearance of women were improper, that he learned this from the commission’s investigation letter and discussions with his presiding judge, and that he was not trained on this issue until September 2018.” Inquiry Concerning Laettner, 8 Cal. 5th CJP Supp. 1, 1, 2019 Cal. Comm. Jud. Perform. LEXIS 3, *1. 

As recently as last year, the Fourth Appellate District felt compelled to report an attorney to the California State Bar for manifesting such bias toward a trial judge.  In Martinez v. O’Hara (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 853, 855, the notice of appeal signed by the plaintiff’s lawyer referred to the ruling of the female judicial officer as “succubustic.”  As the court wrote, educating those of us who had no clue what this word means: “A succubus is defined as a demon assuming female form which has sexual intercourse with men in their sleep. We publish this portion of the opinion to make the point that gender bias by an attorney appearing before us will not be tolerated, period.”

And, there’s this gem from the Second Appellate District. Briganti v. Chow (2019) 42 Cal.App.5th 504, 510-511.  In this case, counsel wrote: “With due respect, every so often, an attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, politically well-connected judge can err! Let’s review the errors!”  When questioned at oral argument, respondent’s counsel stated he intended to compliment the trial judge.  As the court noted, calling a woman judge—now an Associate Justice of the same Appellate court— “attractive” as respondent did twice at the beginning of a reply brief “is inappropriate because it is both irrelevant and sexist. This is true whether intended as a compliment or not. Such comments would not likely have been made about a male judge.” It’s unfortunate that, even today, an Appellate Court must remind us that 

Objectifying or demeaning a member of the profession, especially when based on gender, race, sexual preference, gender identity, or other such characteristics, is uncivil and unacceptable. Moreover, the comments in the brief demean the serious business of this court. We review judgments and judicial rulings, not physical or other supposed personal characteristics of superior court judges.

Lawyers, judges, and arbitrators have a special obligation to model acceptable behavior and to call out those who manifest bias and engage in harassment.

This special obligation, however, also comes with the admonishment that we need to avoid “crying wolf.”  As the Fourth Appellate District recognized last year:

The [FEHA] prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s disability or perceived disability, but it does not guarantee employees a stress-free working environment. FEHA does not take away an employer’s right to interpret its rules as it chooses, and to make determinations as it sees fit under those rules. The FEHA addresses discrimination. . . it is not a shield against harsh treatment at the workplace.  Workplaces are rarely idyllic retreats, and the mere fact that an employee is displeased by an employer’s act or omission does not elevate that act or omission to the level of a materially adverse employment action.

Doe v. Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (2019) 43 Cal.App.5th 721, 736 (internal quotations and citations omitted).  While we all must remain vigilant and mindful of what constitutes appropriate behavior, even calling judges or arbitrators to task if warranted, we must also remember:

it is extraordinary for an appellate court to find judicial bias amounting to a due process violation. The appellate court’s role not to examine whether the trial judge’s behavior left something to be desired, or whether some comments would have been better left unsaid, but to determine whether the judge’s behavior was so prejudicial it denied the party a fair, as opposed to a perfect, trial. Mere expressions of opinion, based on observation of the witnesses and evidence, do not demonstrate judicial bias. Numerous and continuous rulings against a party are not grounds for a finding of bias.

Schmidt, 2020 Cal.App. Lexis 54 at *29-30.  Finding no gender bias on the part of the trial judge, the court in Schmidt, decided just a few days ago, noted the plaintiffs waived a jury in their sexual harassment case and “only when [plaintiffs] received the adverse results at the end of the trial process did they protest the trial judge’s supposed bias.” 

Planning & Preparation: Six Steps to a Successful Mediation

Mediation is meant to be a way of solving a legal dispute in an economical and timely fashion. However, a successful, timely, and economical mediation doesn’t just happen. It requires careful planning and preparation. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to walk away satisfied with the results.

Step #1 – Understand Your Case

Prior to engaging in mediation, you must have a concrete understanding of your case. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be, or have, an attorney. But it’s critical that you know the facts of your case, the applicable laws, and the issues that are in dispute.

In other words, if you can’t provide a summary of the dispute to your mediator, then it’s going to take a lot longer to identify the key issues and provide solutions that will work for everyone.

If you don’t entirely understand the legal issues in your case, you should consider consulting with an attorney who can help you.

Step #2 – Organize Copies of Key Documents

When you first meet with the mediator, he or she will need to review the key documents related to your case or dispute. This might include a copy of the complaint and response, as well as other legal pleadings. It can also include pieces of evidence, such as contracts, copies of emails and text messages, insurance policies, letters, memos, employee handbooks, and more.

Whatever the case may be, you should have copies of all key documents (both digital and paper versions) and store them in an organized fashion for easy reference and review.

Step #3 – Familiarize Yourself with the Mediation Process

If this is your first experience with mediation, it will be especially important to prepare by familiarizing yourself with the process. You should have an opportunity to meet with the mediator privately prior to any joint mediation sessions. Here, the mediator should go over his or her rules, guidelines, and standard procedures. This is your opportunity to ask questions and make sure you understand exactly what the process looks like and what’s expected of you.

If there’s something you don’t understand, or you’re not sure about a specific rule or procedure, ask or look it up prior to the opening session. If you walk into mediation confused or hesitant, you may miss out on a key opportunity to find a fair resolution.

Step #4 – Prepare for the Opening Session

The opening session was discussed earlier in the series, but it’s arguably the most important phase because it sets the tone for the rest of the mediation.

Very simply, prepare what you’re going to say. Preparing an articulate, well-organized statement of your position will serve you well through the entire rest of the process. Carefully consider your arguments and key issues and write them down. Read your statement aloud and make edits until you’re confident that it makes sense and stays on point. Practice what you’re going to say. Jot down notes, if you feel like you’ll need reminders. This is your chance to start off on the right foot. Don’t squander it by being unprepared.

Step #5 – Differentiate Between ‘Wants’ and ‘Needs’.

It may help to sit down and make a list of everything you’re hoping to negotiate for. Then do an honest assessment of which items you ‘need’ in order to feel like the resolution is fair, and which items you ‘want’ but aren’t necessarily critical. Knowing the difference between the two will come in handy when you must make an important decision (or two) during negotiations.

Step #6 – Get Your Mind Right

Last, but not least, get yourself in the mediation mindset. This means approaching the process with all your prepared documents and arguments and lists, but also with an open mind and patience. No matter how prepared you may be, if you’re not willing to compromise in the moment, hear the other party out, and respect the mediator’s professional suggestions, all your planning may be for naught.

The Mediation Caucus

One of the most useful and flexible of mediation tools is the mediation caucus.

A mediation caucus is a private meeting with a subgroup of participants.  The mediator often holds separate caucuses with each party and the party’s attorney.  A mediator can also chose to hold an attorneys’ only caucus with the attorneys for all the parties, or even a caucus with just one attorney.  On occasion, the mediator may ask counsel for permission to hold a parties only caucus.  The caucus is an important part of the overall process and serves a critical role.

Here, we’ll discuss how a mediation caucus works and what you can do to make the most of it.  This discussion focuses on those mediations in which most of the work is done in a joint session.  Depending on the mediator and the preferences of the parties involved, often a joint session is used only to introduce the process and set ground rules.  In those cases, most of the work is actually accomplished in caucuses.  Even in cases where most of the exchange of information and proposals is done through caucuses, the general guidance provided here applies.


The Purpose of a Mediation Caucus

There are countless reasons why a mediation caucus might be called and very few rules dictating how it should be done.

Any party involved in the mediation, including the mediator, the disputing parties, or their attorneys, can call for a caucus whenever they choose.  Sometimes, a mediator will strategically plan a caucus in order to provide planned breaks in the joint session. Other times, a caucus may be called spontaneously as the need arises.

A caucus may be called for any number of reasons, including:

  • To give disputing parties the opportunity to brainstorm or discuss solutions privately with the mediator and/or their attorney;
  • To provide the parties with a break in order to relieve tension, calm nerves, or settle emotions;
  • To let a party privately consider an offer and weigh the pros and cons;
  • To give the mediator a chance to offer negotiation or settlement advice privately to each party;
  • To afford the parties time to privately draft settlement proposals;
  • To allow the parties to reveal confidential information to the mediator;
  • To permit the mediator to clarify points, arguments, or issues with the parties privately; and
  • To give parties time to reevaluate their goals, wants, and needs

Setting Boundaries

As useful as they may be, mediation caucuses, if not handled properly, can also cause confusion, hostility, or resentment, and may also cause the parties to question the neutrality of the mediator. To ensure that the caucus is a successful part of the mediation process, it’s critical that boundaries are established.

First, a caucus must be completely private. This means that the parties must be physically separated, and the caucus must be held in a space that allows for both auditory and visual privacy. This helps the parties trust the process and allows them to put their guard down.

Second, it must be understood by all parties that caucus sessions are confidential, unless they specifically agree otherwise. The mediator needs to clarify with each party what they would like to remain confidential and what can be discussed when the joint session reconvenes.

Third, most caucuses work best if the mediator holds a caucus with each of the disputing parties. This helps to maintain a clear level of neutrality and balances out the conversations and negotiations.

Finally, remember that this is a flexible process. The parties and mediator can establish their own caucus rules, so long as they’re ethical and mutually agreed upon.

How to Make the Most of the Caucus  

Just like the opening session, there are ways to make the most of a caucus.

One of the most important points to remember is that a caucus is an opportunity to make progress. It allows you to step away from the joint session, calm your emotions and nerves, gather your thoughts, and get valuable advice. It’s not a punishment or time-out; it’s a vital part of the process and will help things to move along.

At the same time, it’s also important that you don’t abuse this tool. If you call a caucus too often, it will impede progress and make the other party resent you or question your dedication to the process. Yes, a caucus can provide a much-needed break, but it should not be used as a weapon against the other party or to avoid the joint session.

Finally, be sure that you’re using your time wisely. By nature, a caucus should be used as a brief break. If you drag it on, and leave the other party waiting too long, it can interfere with momentum and illicit questions and doubt. Focus on the purpose of the caucus and use the time wisely so the joint session can commence, and you can all move forward.

What to Do in the Opening Session of Mediation: Setting the Stage for Success

The opening session of mediation will set the stage for the rest of the process. How you approach this first session, and what you do with it, can significantly influence the final results. Here, I’ll share some tips on what to expect and how to make the most of this critical stage.

What Happens in the Opening Session?

Every mediator is different and therefore conducts a slightly different opening session. However, the opening session of mediation will typically include the following:

  • Introductory Remarks – First things first; the mediator will make introductory remarks. This is the mediator’s opportunity to give an opening statement, summarize his or her understanding of the issues, and simultaneously demonstrate   The mediator should make all parties feel comfortable and safe. The mediator should will also go over the procedures, timelines, rules, and guidelines.  As a participant, you should make sure you (or your client if you are an attorney) understands the process and the ground rules for that particular mediation session.
  • Statement of the Problem –Next, the parties may have an opportunity to give a brief opening statement. This is not the time to vent, attack, blame, or provide evidence, proof, or documentation. Rather, this is a chance for each side to share their perspective, without interruption. Each party, if provided the chance, should summarize their side of the story, state their claims and arguments, and explain what they believe to be the key problems. This accomplishes several things. First, it gives all parties involved a chance to explain their side of the events.  It also gives the mediator an opportunity to identify any gaps in the parties’ understanding of the facts and issues to be resolved and to gauge the emotional state of the parties.
  • Q&A –Once the opening statements are made, the mediator will usually ask the parties a few open-ended questions. The mediator will often take this opportunity to clearly state key ideas and summarize each parties’ perspective. This part of the opening session should establish an environment of understanding and set the tone for the mediation.
  • Identification of Problems and Goal Setting –Finally, the mediator will usually clearly identify the key problems and issues and help the parties set a specific goal for each. This creates a roadmap, if you will, and divides the case into bite-sized, manageable pieces.

How to Make the Most of Your Opening Session

A successful mediation depends on several factors, but there are a few key skills that will help you make the most of the critical opening session and set the stage for a successful mediation overall.

First, you must use this time to be a good listener. This will likely be your first opportunity to truly hear the events and dispute as told from the other party’ point of view. Hear them out. It’s human nature for people to look at an issue from only their perspective. In order to resolve a dispute, you must be able to put yourself in the other party’s shoes. So, as they tell their story and summarize their version of the issues, try not to make judgments – truly listen to what they are saying. Pay attention to their emotions and the words they choose and try to understand where they’re coming from.

Next, it’s important to stick to the facts. This doesn’t mean that you should hide your emotions. The mediator, and even the other party, needs to understand your emotional state and how you’re feeling about the issues. At the same time, it will be advantageous for you to control those emotions and not let them dictate your words or distort your perspective. In other words, when your emotions take over, it often results in the exaggeration of events or unintended twisting of facts. Not only will this make the other party more resentful, but it will also make it more difficult for the mediator to establish the truth. Tell your side of the story, but be as accurate and factual about it as possible.

Finally, it’s important to be flexible at this stage. If you approach mediation with an unwavering idea of what should happen, you’re likely to be disappointed. Mediation is about finding reasonable solutions for everyone involved. This requires a certain level of cooperation and compromise.





Always Counter: The Art of Negotiation in Mediation

Mediation is all about reaching a deal acceptable to all parties. And, at the core of every good deal is a constructive negotiation. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert negotiator to achieve your goals in mediation. You do, however, need to know a few basics.

Check Your Pre-Conditions at the Door

One of the most damaging things you can do is begin negotiations with pre-conditions. When you have firm pre-conditions, you’ve drawn a line in the sand before the first word is ever even uttered. This instantly builds a wall and puts the other party on the defensive. It also closes your mind to new ideas and creative possibilities.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re mediating a special education due process claim. If you come to the table with the firm condition that your child MUST be placed in a non-public school, you’ve already built a barrier. You are acknowledging you’ve left no room for negotiations and refuse to hear other ideas. This approach will get you nowhere fast.

Take Bite-Size Pieces

Another unproductive approach to negotiations is to tackle the dispute as a whole. A much better process is to divide the dispute into smaller pieces and address them. Often it is easier to obtain agreement on the key issues after doing so on less important points.

Consider an employment dispute where the major issue is, typically, money. Perhaps a plaintiff suing a former employer would be willing to accept less money if the employer were willing to provide a positive letter of reference or otherwise address the employee’s concern over the future.

Empty Threats and Lines in the Sand

One of the worst negotiation tactics you can employ is to tell the other party that you’ve reached “the bottom line” if you really have not. In other words, don’t draw a line in the sand unless you’re truly ready to walk away for the last dollar.

To illustrate the power of a standing firm once you characterize a proposal as a “final offer,” I often tell parties the true story of my wife’s experience at a car dealer. We had gotten an unsolicited offer from the dealership to trade in her car and upgrade to a new model. We agreed that if we could trade in the car and spend up to $10,000 to get something she wanted, we would do it. She handled the negotiations herself. At the end of a few hours, the best deal offered would have cost her $10,050. So she walked out. Sure enough the dealership later called her and asked her if she’d be willing to come back. The owner had, as it happened, come to the store from out of town and found out about the lost deal. When my wife returned, he was there, pulled $50 out of his pocket and said, “Do we have a deal?” She drove home with her new car. Imagine walking away from a negotiation like this over fifty bucks. That’s the meaning of “bottom line.”

I spent part of my career in labor relations negotiating many contracts with many different unions. The team of which I was a part had to deal with a history of prior management making “last, best and final offers” from which they would, inevitably back down and agree to further concessions. Our team negotiated to impasse and had several strikes all of which were necessary to reestablish the credibility of management’s claim that final really meant final.

Once you assert a bottom line position, you simply cannot make further concessions without destroying your credibility. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can never use the bottom line claim as a tactic. It simply means if the other party calls your bluff, you will have to suspend the negotiation and devise a way to make the concessions (if you are willing to do so to get a deal) without appearing to have backed away from your position. There are a number of ways to do this.

When confronted with a party who insists on characterizing its last proposal as a bottom line, I always advise making a counter offer. The worst that happens is that the party says: “I meant what I said. Final means final.” More often, however, you discover that “final did not mean final.” Even if the first party is unwilling to negotiate any more at that time, the likelihood is that your counter offer will keep the conversation going and tell the other party a deal can be worked out.

Two Keys to Resolving Disputes

Mediation is about resolving disputes in a fair, cooperative, and sustainable manner. But a mediator’s job is not to resolve the parties’ dispute for them. Rather, a mediator’s job is to clarify issues, facilitate understanding of opposing positions, and educate the parties about the alternatives to a negotiated settlement so they can resolve their dispute on terms that work for them.

As complicated as this may seem, it is actually quite simple. There are really only two things a mediator must do to help successfully resolve a dispute.

Close the Information Gap

The first step is to make sure the disputing parties are factually on the same page.

What may start as a simple misunderstanding often grows into a full-blown and heated argument because the parties do not even agree on the most important facts and bits of information at the root of the issue. Once the initial misunderstanding occurs, the emotions take over (which we’ll discuss in a moment) and the dispute grows from there.  If it is  a litigated dispute, the metastasis is even worse.  Positions become entrenched and neither side stops to say, ‘Hey! Let’s look at what actually happened and make sure we’re on the same page about that before we continue arguing.’  Each party is far too busy defending its version of events to take a step back and start from the beginning.

A good mediator, then, will help close that gap.  I will always ask each party to provide a detailed factual summary so I can compare them and see if the parties can at least agree on the facts. Until they do that, it is fruitless to try to help them find a mutually acceptable resolution.

The results of the fact comparison are often surprising.

Often, opposing parties discover they are looking at completely different ‘facts’ or had different understandings about a core piece of information.  Only after the parties are all making arguments based on the same set of facts can the hard work of crafting a solution finally begin.

For example, in a recent wage and hour putative class action with PAGA claims alleged, the employer took the position that no employee had complained about the alleged violation.  On this basis, the employer was arguing strenuously that the discretionary penalty that might be awarded would be zero or very low because the plaintiffs would be unable to demonstrate a “willful” violation.  But this was factually inaccurate because, in fact, the named plaintiff had evidence that she had made previous complaints.  For some reason, this evidence had not surfaced prior to the mediation.  In fact, it wasn’t until fairly late in the day that I asked the question that caused the plaintiff’s side to reveal this evidence to me.  Although the case did not settle during that day, the employer at least came away with a better understanding of why plaintiffs’ counsel had continued throughout the mediation to insist on a payment far in excess of what the employer thought was reasonable.

Address the Emotions

When a conflict or disagreement arises, even a small one, human beings become defensive and, often, irrational. We immediately protect our egos and sense of righteousness by building up walls. Logic is cast aside, and emotions take over. Emotions like anger, resentment, guilt, insecurity, and fear are most common.

Until the parties can eliminate, or at least minimize, the power of these emotions, rational arguments are useless.  Parties are prone to exaggerating, bluffing, stalling, threatening, stonewalling, avoiding, and any number of other ineffective tactics based on emotion, not reason. Although this reaction is understandable because it is human nature, it also prevents resolution of even seemingly small disputes.

The mediator must address these emotions before any resolution is possible. Dealing with emotions does not mean ignoring them, dismissing them, or minimizing them.  To the contrary, a mediator must help the disputing parties work through the emotions and recognize the consequences of making decisions based on emotions instead of reason.

A key to helping parties minimize the role of their emotions in decision-making is establishing trust. If the parties are not comfortable, they will continue to build walls and use their emotions as a guard.  Once the parties trust that the mediator is truly neutral and truly interested in nothing but facilitating a resolution, the parties are generally able to listen to rational advice.  And, if two parties are addressing the same set of facts and applying rational thought, the dispute almost resolves itself.  To establish this trust, it is critical that the mediator listen to and discuss the parties’ feelings about the dispute so they feel their reaction is acknowledged and validated. The opportunity for each party to reveal his or her emotions to a sympathetic, neutral ear is an invaluable part of the mediation process.

In a recent case, the plaintiff sued the defendant for a relatively small sum of money.  The parties had been friends for nearly 40 years and the plaintiff felt a sense of betrayal.  Had the case been a simple business dispute involving this amount of money, it is likely the matter might never have been litigated.  It finally settled when the plaintiff was able to cast aside his feelings of being stiffed by a life-long friend and view the case as just a dispute over whether he was owed money and, if so, how much.  As with most cases, when parties make decisions based on facts and sound arguments instead of feelings, the dispute resolves.

Over my career, I have developed a knack for closing the information gap by asking the right questions and insisting on answers backed up with evidence.  I have also been lauded for an ability to relate to people on all different levels and thereby earn their trust.

I welcome the opportunity to help people resolve disputes of any kind whether a litigated case or any matter where conflict resolution assistance would be beneficial to those whose dispute is interfering with something important to the parties.

Please feel free to contact me through the website or by telephone if I can be of assistance.

Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights/Tolling Period

I have recently started mediating and arbitrating more law enforcement discipline cases. Bacillo v. City of LA addresses a key procedural question in such cases. The question is when is a criminal investigation no longer “pending” for purposes of evaluating when the tolling period described in the statute ends.  The court held in this case that the tolling period ends when a final determination is made not to prosecute ALL the public safety officers implicated in the alleged misconduct at issue.

In this matter, there was three officers involved in an incident so even though the discipline administered to the officer in question was administered more than one year after an informal decision had been made not to file criminal charges against him, the court found the discipline timely because it was administered within one year after the decision had been made not to prosecute either of the other officers.

Notably, the incident in question occurred in 2011.

A Renewed Plea for Civility

I recently defended a deposition for the first time in many years having become a full-time neutral about ten years ago.  My experience caused me to think about the responsibility of attorneys to adhere to standards of professional behavior and decorum.  Throughout my 30-plus year career, there have consistently been calls for restoring civility to the profession. Even some scholarly law review articles. See, e.g., Civility Codes: The Newest Weapons in the “Civil” War Over Proper Attorney Conduct Regulations Miss Their Mark 24 U. Dayton L. Rev 151 (Fall 1998) Incentivizing Lawyers to Place Nice: A National Survey of Civility Standards and Options for Enforcement, 48 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 701 (Spring 2015).  Despite the repetition of this plea, behavior seems to have gotten worse, not better.

A colleague who is active on Linked In regularly chronicles instances of asinine behavior to which she is subjected from opposing counsel and solicits input from her followers about similar incidents they have experienced.  A review of the posts is depressing.  This colleague primarily represents plaintiffs in employment cases so many of the critiques are of defense counsel.  Based on my experience over the years, however, it’s not the client, it’s the attorney.  Litigators on all sides of the fence too regularly engage in obnoxious, bullying behavior that is not proper, professional or productive.

In this recent deposition, I represented a colleague who was retained by an employer-defendant in a race discrimination case to conduct an investigation after the lawsuit had been filed.   During the course of the deposition, this lawyer referred to me on the record as “a jerk,” and “a joke.”  He derisively called me “Mr. Arbitrator/Mediator” pointing out that I had not litigated in ten years as if that meant something.  Especially given that I was not representing an opposing party, it seemed to me this young lawyer was needlessly antagonistic.

I do not claim I’ve always (or even ever have) been a role model of civility.  In fact, I quite regularly acknowledge that I engaged in obnoxious behavior during my days as a litigator although I like to think I had improved significantly later in my career.  Even during my career as a neutral, there have been times when someone has pushed my buttons and I have reacted in a way I almost immediately regretted.

This experience caused me to redouble my efforts to conduct myself as what my grandmother would have called a mensch. Given the general state of human interaction these days, I think it’s even more important for attorneys to  respect the rule of law and the judicial process.  This means respecting all participants in the process litigants, counsel, witnesses, etc.  Even in a community as large as Los Angeles, the legal world is a small place.  Relationships matter. The most satisfying moments of my career have been when I’ve had a case referred by a former opposing counsel, been hired by a party against whom I litigated, and developed meaningful professional and social relationships with former adversaries.


Court Holds Dynamex Applies Only to Wage Order Claims

In Garcia v. Border Transportation Group, the 4th Appellate District held the Dynamex independent contractor test does not apply to claims other than those brought pursuant to the IWC Wage Orders.  This seems like a distinction without a difference despite the court’s attempt to distinguish claims under the wage orders from other claims.  The real message in this case is that lawyers need to actually do their job.  In this case, although the court held Dynamex did not apply to the non-wage order claims, the court nevertheless held the plaintiff had waved those claims because his lawyer did not timely file a summary judgment opposition and the opposition that was filed was inadequate in any event.  This case does not really add much analysis to either the retroactivity issue (everyone appears to assume the decision applies retroactively when there are good arguments to be made that it should not) or the “gig”‘ economy issue.  Can an Uber driver ever satisfy part “C?”   I would still like to see the argument made that a worker cannot be considered an employee if the employer cannot compel the worker to show up for work on any given day.

No Class Certification for Uber Drivers; Must Arbitrate Individual Claims

In O’Connor v. Uber, the 9th Circuit issued its opinion in an appeal consolidating four related actions pending before the same district court. In what can only be described as a total victory for the company, the appellate court reversed the district court’s orders denying Uber’s motions to compel arbitration, orders granting class certification, and orders controlling class communications. Two Uber drivers filed the original putative class action complaint on August 16, 2013. A week thereafter, the plaintiffs filed a motion under FRCP 23(d) requesting the district our declare Uber’s arbitration agreement unconscionable or requiring Uber to provide enhanced notice and opt out provisions. The district court granted this motion. In a later proceeding, the district court held the arbitration agreement unconscionable. In April, 2015, plaintiffs moved for class certification. The district court granted class certification in part on September 1, 2015 and certified an additional subclass on December 9, 2015. In the same order, the district court certified the original class and the new subclass to pursue recovery of expense reimbursement in addition to the tips and damages for misclassification as independent contractors. The Ninth Circuit had already reversed the district court’s orders denying Uber’s motion to compel arbitration in Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc. The court rejected plaintiffs’ new argument that the lead plaintiffs had opted out of the arbitration agreements on behalf of the class. Plaintiffs’ argument relied on a Georgia case arising under state law. The Ninth Circuit applied the Federal Arbitration Act and noted “an arbitration-specific rule . . . would be preempted. The court also rejected the argument that the arbitration agreements are unenforceable because the class action waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act. That issue, however, was disposed of by the Supreme Court in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis. The reversal of the class certification orders follows directly from the reversal of the motions to compel arbitration. The Ninth Circuit points out that the question of arbitrability is designated to the arbitrator, not the district court. Plaintiffs essentially conceded this point but argued the orders should be left in place and the action remanded to the district court for consideration of some other class that could be certified. The appellate court remanded the case for such consideration but held that leaving the existing class certification orders in place was inappropriate. Finally, the Ninth Circuit reversed the Rule 23(d) orders pursuant to which the District Court purported to control how Uber communicated with drivers. Again, this was a “no-brainer” once the class certification orders were reversed. Most of the heavy lifting in this case occurred in the Mohamed case. The additional two years of litigation did not really result in any new law. This latest case is mostly a procedural exercise in dotting eyes and crossing tees. According to one article: “A lawyer for drivers suing Uber said that since the ability to sue en masse has been removed, her firm is prepared to bring thousands of drivers into individual arbitration with Uber.”