Bratwurst, Bubblers & Bias Suits: Milwaukee Federal Court Stats

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By Patrick Dorrian

Workers in the Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis., areas who bring discrimination claims against their employers have less than a 50-50 chance of presenting their case to a federal jury, even when their lawsuits survive early dismissal bids by employers.

Federal judges in those two cities have thrown employment lawsuits out of court shortly before trial 54.3 percent of the time.

That’s the good news for companies doing business in the land of the NFL’s Packers or Milwaukee, the Midwest’s fifth largest city. Milwaukee also is headquarters to several international employers, including Harley-Davidson USA , Johnson Controls , Rockwell Automation , and ManPower Group .

But it’s not all brats and bubblers for area employers, as judges in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin are a bit stingier when asked to dismiss an employment lawsuit in its infancy, before an employee has had a chance to talk to witnesses, exchange evidence, and gather other potential proof supporting her allegations.

Employment lawsuits are tossed out at the early “pleadings” stage by Eastern District of Wisconsin judges just 40.5 percent of the time. That means some six in 10 employment cases at least get to the point where parties exchange evidence and engage in other often costly pre-trial activities.

At issue are two common legal maneuvers employers and other defendants in federal civil cases use to defeat lawsuits. The first is a motion to dismiss, which is filed early on and argues that a lawsuit is baseless or otherwise lacking. The second is a motion for summary judgment, which is filed after the parties have exchanged evidence. It argues that workers or other plaintiffs can’t possibly prevail at trial because they don’t have the required proof or their case is legally insufficient in some other way.

The lion’s share of these types of motions are brought by parties defending against lawsuits. But workers and other plaintiffs sometimes seek summary judgment and—rarer still—early dismissal of a case.

In Line With Other Courts

The findings are based on a review by Bloomberg Law of rulings made between Jan. 1, 2007, and July 8, 2018, by the four judges currently sitting on the federal bench in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Despite its relatively small size, the court’s handling of motions to dismiss and for summary judgment is consistent with a pattern found when we took similar looks at five other federal district courts elsewhere in the country.

In the six courts previously reviewed, employees have a slightly better chance, and sometimes a much better chance, than do plaintiffs in all types of civil cases of getting past early dismissal bids with at least some of their claims intact. But workers always fare a little worse than other plaintiffs when the court is asked to dismiss a case on the eve of trial, the summary judgment stage.

Individual Rates for Milwaukee and Green Bay Judges

No Eastern District of Wisconsin judges sided with employers more than half the time when ruling on early dismissal motions in employment cases. And only two of the four sided with employers more than 40 percent of the time.

Judge Lynn Adelman was the least employer-friendly of the group. He only kicked employment lawsuits out of court at the outset at a 29.6 percent clip.

Judge J.P. Stadtmueller on the other hand was the judge employers were likely most pleased to see at the early dismissal stage. He sided with them on 47.8 percent of the 23 motions on which he ruled.

At the later summary judgment stage however, just before a case is sent to trial, three of the four judges saw things the employer’s way more than half the time.

Flipping the script, Adelman was least employee-friendly just prior to trial. He granted summary judgment in full at a 59.2 percent rate in his 71 rulings.

Employees fared much before Judge Pamela Pepper when seeking to advance at least one claim to trial in an employment case. She denied summary judgment in whole or in part in such cases in 70 percent of her rulings.

Looking for more analytics on U.S. courts? Watch in coming weeks for further reporting on other districts across the country or try Bloomberg Law’s Litigation Analytics.

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