Florida Is No Magic Kingdom for Employers Facing Job Bias Suits

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By Patrick Dorrian

For sun lovers, there are few places more appealing than the heart of the Sunshine State itself. But employers in Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, and neighboring areas sued for employment discrimination often face cloudy skies.

Within the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, The Walt Disney Co. , Publix Super Markets Inc. , and other area employers do a little better in getting bias lawsuits thrown out before trial after the sides have exchanged evidence and the case is ready to be heard by a jury than they do at the very outset of litigation. But they still tend to fare worse overall than employers in some other parts for the country, according to Bloomberg Law data.

Middle District of Florida judges granted early dismissals of employment lawsuits 40.9 percent of the time when asked. The rate at which they dismissed such cases on the eve of trial was 48.8 percent. That compares with the court’s 43.7 percent early dismissal rate and 43.2 summary judgment grant rate in all cases.

That means nearly 60 percent of the federal employment lawsuits leveled against employers in the district get past a case’s preliminary stages with at least some claims still standing. And a jury is ultimately asked to decide one or more claims in about 50 percent of the cases that survive early dismissal efforts.

At issue are two common legal maneuvers employers and other defendants in federal civil cases use to get lawsuits thrown out of court. 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.

The findings are based on a review by Bloomberg Law of rulings made between Jan. 1, 2007, and June 23, 2018, by all 26 judges currently sitting on the court who decided at least one dismissal or summary judgment motion this year. The Middle District of Florida has courts in Fort Myers and Ocala in addition to branches in Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa.

Sunnier for Employees Than Elsewhere

The overall rate at which employers in the Middle District of Florida succeed in getting employment lawsuits thrown out by federal judges before they reach trial is lower than the rates of other district courts examined by Bloomberg Law.

Judges in the Northern District of Alabama granted early dismissals in employment cases at a 42.9 percent rate and pretrial motions for summary judgment at a 58.4 percent clip. The numbers for the Northern District of Illinois, the Eastern District of New York, and the Western District of Washington were 36.3 percent and 57 percent, 48.9 percent and 56.7 percent, and 49.5 percent and 52.3 percent, respectively.

Workers in the Middle District of Florida thus do better than all but those in the Northern of Illinois when it comes to getting past a case’s early days with at least some of their allegations intact.

And they do better than workers in all four of the other districts after the parties have swapped evidence and the judge in the case is asked to decide if there’s a genuine dispute for a jury to resolve.

Individual Rates for Middle District of Florida Judges

Only six of the Middle District of Florida’s 26 judges found for employers more than half the time when ruling on early dismissal motions in employment cases. On the other hand, 11 sided with workers on at least some of their claims 60 percent or more of the time.

Judge William Castagna was the least employer-friendly of the group, denying motions to dismiss employment lawsuits at the outset all three times he was asked to do so. Among judges who ruled on 20 or more such motions, Judge Patricia Fawsett sided with employers least often, doing so at a 23.8 percent rate.

Judge Marcia Morales Howard led the pack in seeing things for employers most frequently at the early dismissal stage, siding with them on 77.8 percent of the nine motions on which she ruled. Judge Sheri Polster Chappell was the most employer-friendly early on among judges who decided 20 or more motions, granting dismissal before the parties exchanged evidence at a 52.1 percent rate.

The number of judges who saw things the employee’s way most of the time was somewhat flipped at the summary judgment stage, just before a case is sent for trial. Eleven of the 26 judges stopped employees from going any further with their claims at that point more than half the time. By contrast, only six of the judges sided with workers on at least some of their claims more than 60 percent of the time on the eve of trial.

Judge Paul Byron was most employee-friendly just prior to trial, granting summary judgment in full just 27.3 percent of the time in his 11 rulings. Among judges who ruled on 20 or more such motions, Judge John Steele had a nearly identical 27.8 percent full grant rate.

Employers were likely most happy to draw Judge Harvey Schlesinger when seeking to get an employment case kicked out just before trial, as he granted summary judgment in all nine of his rulings. Judge G. Kendall Sharp had the highest summary judgment grant rate among judges with 20 or more rulings at 79.2 percent.

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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