Alex already wrote about some procedural issues in this case. But there’s a lot here to blog about. Here’s my list of some of the lessons from this October 9, 2009 California Appellate Court decision(pdf):
Lesson No. 1: Appellate courts can be hostile to summary judgment motions in employment litigation. The court here went so far to say that summary judgment is rarely appropriate in employment cases. It expressed concern that the procedure was being abused in employment litigation, "especially by deep pocket defendants to overwhelm less well-funded litigants." How’s that for a generalization? I don’t know the circumstances that compelled these attorneys to file 1056 pages of moving papers and 1150 pages of reply papers. But that’s not standard operating procedure for all defense counsel. Plenty of us realize that the way to win these motions is to simplify the issues, not complicate them.
Sub-Lesson No. 1(a): If the court uses the adjective "deep pocket" in a case where you’re the defendant, count on those pockets getting lighter before the day is done.
Lesson No. 2: If in the second paragraph of the opinion, the court says that your motion is "the poster child for such criticism" and "may well be the most oppressive motion ever presented to a superior court," you’re probably not going to like what they say in the other 52 pages.
Lesson No. 3: To win an employment case for the defense you need to succeed at multiple levels. The employer here got a favorable ruling from the DFEH and then won on summary judgment. Things were probably looking pretty bright until the appellate court issued this scathing decision.
Lesson No. 4: It’s another bad sign for the employer defendant when the court, in describing the company’s response to the harassment, puts "investigation" in quotes. Employment law cases are less about what happened to the plaintiff than how the company responded to the situation. Some of the missteps the court railed against here were United failing to follow its own policies, delaying in addressing the issues, and not interviewing witnesses thought to have relevant information. I don’t think many employers understand the detailed requirements California courts impose on investigations of complaints of harassment and similar misconduct. Maybe that will be the topic of a future blog entry.