Employment Juries are not "vanishing," Defense Lawyer Says
Editor's note: In the Dec. 12 Daily Report, employment discrimination lawyers A. Lee Parks Jr. and Edward Buckley wrote about the "vanishing" jury trial in employment discrimination cases, which they said is a result of Georgia's magistrate referral system. Few discrimination cases survive the magistrates' summary judgment process, they wrote, tilting the playing field in favor or employers. Randy C. Gepp,who sometimes defends these cases, responds below.
Several prominent lawyers representing employees in discrimination lawsuits have recently published articles claiming that the right to trial by jury is being eroded in the Northern District of Georgia. These articles imply that the process utilized in the Northern District results in fewer jury trials then the law permits.
To the contrary, the process is fair and employees with worthy cases receive trials before juries.
Not all cases are required to be submitted to a jury. Claims that do not state a claim or meet the statutory minimum threshold are properly subject to a motion to dismiss or summary judgment. This principle is true in all types of cases. The process utilized by the Northern District provides ample protection to employees in employment discrimination cases as claims may be reviewed by both a magistrate judge and the district judge.
The process in the Northern District assigns certain types of employment discrimination cases to both a magistrate judge and a district judge. The magistrate judge is responsible for discovery and procedural matters as well as for making the initial ruling on a motion for summary judgment. If a party moves for summary judgment, the magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation. The report and recommendation is generally quite thorough; many encompass more than 50 pages analyzing the claims and theories in their cases.
The standard for summary judgment utilized by the judges in the Northern District is the same in employment discrimination cases as in other types of cases. Although the recent article in the Daily Report accuses the federal judges of improperly construing inferences in favor of the moving party, just the opposite occurs. To win on summary judgment, the moving party must show there are no issues of material facts, and the facts are construed in light most favorable to the non-moving party.
A party dissatisfied with the report and recommendation may file objections with the district judge. The district judge reviews the matter de novo and can either accept the findings and conclusions of the magistrate judge or make any changes deemed appropriate.
In the vast majority of cases, the report and recommendations of the magistrate judges are accepted. This is not unexpected, as the magistrate judges and district judges are following the law in the Eleventh Circuit. Any magistrate judge who fails to follow precedent will have his/her decision overturned by the district judge.
An employee still dissatisfied with the result has the right to appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. In the Court of Appeals the employee will receive a review by a three-judge panel. The vast majority of cases where summary judgment has been granted are affirmed on appeal. This shows that our judges in the Northern District are following Eleventh Circuit law.
It is important to note that any employee filing a discrimination case may have his claims reviewed at three stages by five judges. While it is easy to blame the magistrate judges for the dismissal of cases, their decisions are subject to multiple reviews to ensure the decisions are consistent with established laws.