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Media attention surrounding President Donald Trump’s pick to be secretary of labor convinced a judge in California to delay an employment discrimination trial against CKE Restaurants Inc., the company run by the nominee ( Dombrowski v. CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc. , Cal. Super. Ct., No. 30-2015-00803215-CU-WT-CJC, trial continued 2/8/17 ).
The controversy over CKE’s chief executive officer, Andy Puzder, would interfere with the company’s ability to get a fair proceeding, attorneys told Judge James Crandall of the California Superior Court in Orange County. The trial was to begin Feb. 27, but Crandall pushed it to June 5.
Puzder is scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing on Feb. 16.
“If you move the trial because of the publicity, does that mean I get no trial if he’s confirmed until he’s out as labor secretary?” Darren Campbell, an attorney with Aitken Campbell Heikaus Weaver LLP in Irvine, Calif., told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 10.
His client, James Dombrowski, sued CKE in 2015, alleging it failed to hold open his position while he was on leave after a brain biopsy resulted in paralysis.
Dombrowski worked as a manager of restaurant systems for CKE, Campbell said. He provided information technology support until he needed to take time to care for complications from the biopsy.
The company failed to accommodate Dombrowski’s disability by reassigning his duties to other employees and eliminating his position while he was on leave, Campbell said. “We believe he was terminated because he was disabled,” his attorney said. “They gave him an unpaid leave of absence but they didn’t give him his job back.”
The court granted CKE’s request for delay Feb. 8. Crandall said he considered the parties’ arguments and evidence, but he didn’t elaborate on his analysis.
“Opponents of Puzder’s nomination have wrongly accused the company of unlawful pay practices,” CKE said in an application for delay. “Such falsehoods, which have been reported in the media, make it impossible for CKE to obtain a fair trial while such nomination, which is under intense media scrutiny, is pending,” the company said.
“As a California lawyer, it strikes my ear very strangely,” Sanjukta Mitra Paul, an employment law professor at the UCLA School of Law, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 10. “I have never heard of a continuance because of negative publicity because of alleged other violations of labor law.”
“I think it’s quite likely that it’s a reversal of the usual motivation,” Paul said. “They’re saying that they don’t want negative publicity from the nomination process to affect the trial. Maybe they don’t want the negative publicity from the trial to affect the nomination process.”
The company also said its general counsel, Chip Seigel III, would be unavailable to participate in the trial if it were held in February because he is needed at Puzder’s confirmation hearing. He would attend the hearing in his capacity as CKE’s senior legal officer and Puzder’s legal adviser.
“CKE has appeared ready for trial on the originally scheduled trial date of September 26, 2016 and the continued trial date of November 7, 2016,” Scott Ferrell, an attorney for CKE, said in a declaration accompanying the company’s request. “Accordingly, the instant Application is not about delay, it is about enabling CKE to obtain a fair day in court.”
Trump announced Puzder as his choice for labor secretary Dec. 8.
CKE and its attorneys didn’t respond to requests for comment Feb. 10.
Ferrell and Tyler Woods with Pacific Trial Attorneys APC in Newport Beach, Calif., represent CKE.
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