U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Historically Black College Pays for Racial Slurs, Bad Lawyers

A double bench-slapping? Yes, please.

Alabama State University recently found itself on the losing end of a racial and sexual harassment verdict, brought after three former employees alleged that they were subject to repeated harassment and usage of the words "n----" and "b----" by one of their supervisors.

The other supervisor reportedly sexually harassed at least one of the women, and threatened retaliation if the women participated in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's investigation.

The Opinion Starts Badly for the University ...

Judge Dubina, for the panel, begins on an ominous note:

The facts of this case should greatly concern every taxpaying citizen of the State of Alabama, especially because it involves a public institution largely funded with tax dollars paid by the people of Alabama.

He then spends multiple pages recounting all of the allegations in detail, including sexual harassment, and an instance in which one of the women's 7-year-old son was called a "n----" by her boss.

... And Ends Worse for the University and its Lawyers

After addressing the rare claims that weren't forfeited out of negligence, the court states:

We are left to speculate who is in charge at ASU. Regardless, however, we are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees.

And counsel, which repeatedly missed deadlines, wasn't spared either:

Additionally, we are troubled by ASU's attorneys' inability to adhere to court procedures and deadlines. Timeliness is imperative in the practice of law, and attorneys should not expect sympathy from this court due to their own carelessness.

Meanwhile ... Procedure, Procedure, Procedure

We weren't privy to the trial record, so we can't comment on the merits of the case, other than to say that the jury found in the three victims' favor on nearly every claim and awarded about $1 million, plus attorneys' fees.

What we can comment on is the importance of knowing civil and appellate procedure, and never missing deadlines.

One of the university's requests, to sever the parties' claims, was denied before discovery. The court, however, noted that the claim could be renewed after discovery, as issues could arise that would necessitate such a split. They never renewed their claim, and as a result, forfeited what might have been credible grounds for appeal (due to the dissimilarity between the victims' claims).

In another instance, ASU filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) and for a new trial and/or for remittitur under Rule 59(b) forty-six seconds late, despite having 28 days to prepare the motions. The district court dismissed them as untimely, noting their cursory (last-minute) nature. It also failed to amend its notice of appeal (Fed.R.App.P. 4(a)(4)(B)(ii)) after filing the untimely motions, killing any chance of appealing the twin denials.

Those are two of many mistakes made by counsel on appeal and at trial, all of which cost the university its chance at any meaningful appellate review.

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