Articles Posted in Trial law

There are certain skills that as we go through life we must obtain. One of those of those skills is knowing when enough is enough and it’s time to walk away. And it is a skill to be able to recognize that and act on the recognition. This skill is especially relevant in any type of legal process. The reason why is that sometimes moving forward is not the best action you can take and that’s a big decision, but hopefully some of the considerations below will help to illustrate good ways to analyze the choices made as a client. 

We’ll start with an example of a situation where a big decision must be made: do you file a lawsuit?

That decision should be informed by a multitude of factors and most of them have nothing to do with the law. I know, the law not being one of the main contenders seems like an odd stance, but there are so many relevant human considerations that should be taken into account instead. To take care of this, let’s suppose that the question of filing a lawsuit has already been decided – there are grounds to file, the Firm agreed, and the only decision to be made is whether to go for it. 

One the greatest rights we have is the right to a jury trial. While many employment cases never make it to a jury, employees still have this fundamental right to attempt to get his/her case to a jury.

Over the last year, we have witnessed more employment cases being tried before a jury. One of the reasons we are seeing more jury trials is courts are trying to clear their backlogs from the pandemic, and the way to do that is by having jury trials and getting cases off their dockets. Another reason is people want their day in court. As a result, we have witnessed significant jury verdicts in employment cases.

I also realize that some people do not like juries. Why is this? Maybe it’s because your fate is in the hands of people that you do not know. Perhaps you may not feel confident that you will be given a jury of people who are truly your peers. That is okay if you are uncomfortable having a jury decide your case. You can always have a bench trial before the judge. I must admit getting a case to a jury is not easy, which is discussed by my colleague, Jairo Castellanos, in a recent blog.  But, for now, let’s discuss who jurors are, their purpose, and recent jury verdicts.

Summary: This more light-hearted article talks about the author’s recent experience with jury duty and how a lawyer’s perspective differs from that of a layperson. 

Immediately after I had the opportunity to pick a jury in one of our federal trials in September 2022, I had an entirely new experience: actually having jury duty of my own.  This was far from the familiar halls of civil court, but brought me to the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts Building.  I don’t know how I “escaped” being called for so many years, but those two things just happened to coincide less than a week apart.   

From a lawyer’s perspective, jury duty—much like the decisions a jury makes—can be a mysterious black box.  Especially because each judge runs their courtroom differently, we may not even have a clear idea of what to expect until the last second.  Right before jury selection (the start of any jury trial), the lawyers for both sides will get some information about each prospective juror.  Depending on the case, it might be as little as name, occupation, and spouse’s occupation, or as much as a multi-page survey. 

A common misconception in employment law is that to be a plaintiff you must have been or are a model employee. This myth prevents many potential plaintiffs from pursuing action against their employers. My aim in this article is to address this misconception and hopefully dispel it.  

In its simplest form, employment law boils down to a three-step process: 1) there is discrimination or retaliation, 2) this discrimination or retaliation is because of a protected characteristic or protected activity and 3) an adverse action was taken against the employee as a result. Within this framework there are little details and deviations that cannot be ignored. However, in its simplicity it also showcases how the law does not expect perfection. 

For employees experiencing discrimination and/or retaliation, having a disciplinary history may feel like an insurmountable obstacle to any employment claim they may want to pursue. This concern is the fuel that perpetuates the myth of the perfect plaintiff, but as the old adage goes, the devil is in the details. 

According to federal law and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers cannot discriminate against employees based on their race, age, disability, or other protected characteristics. Employers also cannot retaliate against employees for complaining of discrimination.

An employee who has been discriminated against must first present a prima facie case of discrimination. To fulfill this burden, an employee must establish that they were a member of a protected class, that they were qualified for the job, and that they suffered some kind of adverse employment action based on their class status.

Although these steps may seem straight forward, employees often face difficulties proving that the adverse action was based on their protected class status because employers are frequently able to conceal their true discriminatory motives. In many cases, employers will obscure their motives behind neutral reasons such as “business interests” or an employee’s performance. In these cases, direct evidence of discrimination is often very difficult to obtain. However, employees can still succeed in a Texas employment discrimination lawsuit even if their employer cites a nondiscriminatory reason for its actions.

When an employee is hired, in many, if not most instances, he or she is required to sign some form of employment agreement. These contracts outline the duties and expectations of both the employer and the employee. Frequently, Texas employment contracts include an arbitration clause, which is an agreement between the parties that any dispute arising from the employment relationship will be resolved out of the court system by an independent arbitrator.

For the most part, Texas employment arbitration agreements favor the more sophisticated party. For one, the costs of defending a case in arbitration is lower than a traditional Texas employment case in the court system. Additionally, depending on the terms of the arbitration agreement, certain rules of evidence may not apply. Moreover, an arbitrator’s conclusion is generally final and thus not appealable.

Like other contractual agreements, arbitration agreements can be enforceable if they are voluntarily entered into by both parties, are not overly broad in their scope, and do not provide an unfair benefit to one party. Thus, just because an employee signed an employment contract that contains an arbitration clause does not necessarily mean that the clause will be enforceable. At the same time, an arbitration agreement can be enforced even if the employee does not sign the agreement, particularly if they continue to work knowing that there is an arbitration policy.

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Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact in federal age discrimination cases against government employers. In the case Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, the Court held the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to government employers of all sizes.


When the ADEA was passed in 1967, it added age to the list of characteristics that could not be used by an employer as a basis for an adverse employment decision. Under section 630(b), the ADEA defines the term employer as “a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees.” However, the statute also states that an employer “also means … a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, the plaintiffs were two men, aged 46 and 54, who were terminated from their positions by the defendant fire department when the fire department began facing budgetary concerns. The fire department was a political subdivision of the State of Arizona. At the time they were fired, the employees were the oldest two firefighters in the department.

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In 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark employment discrimination case, McDonnell Douglas v. Green, outlining a framework for analyzing cases alleging employment discrimination. The McDonnell-Douglas test, as it has come to be known, is applied in nearly all Texas employment discrimination cases.When the Supreme Court first announced the McDonnell-Douglas test, it was in the context of a defense motion for summary judgment. In other words, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s case before it was even submitted to a jury. Essentially, the argument in a pre-trial motion for summary judgment is that the non-moving party cannot prevail at trial because, as a matter of law, their case is insufficient.

The McDonnell-Douglas test is fairly straightforward, although it can become complex in its application. First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. This normally requires that the plaintiff prove that they belong to a protected class and that the employer took some adverse employment action against them. This creates a presumption that the defendant employer engaged in discriminatory conduct.

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A great deal of work goes into high school debates. While they tend to be an extracurricular activity that attracts highly motivated and structured individuals with a particular type of personality, these debates also requires an intense amount of preparation, regardless of who is doing the debating. High school debaters need to develop certain skills, such as the ability to read the judge, the ability to turn the opponent’s evidence or arguments to their favor, and the ability to do a substantial amount of research.

These same skills need to be developed by trial lawyers. Many people assume that trial lawyers are successful in court because they possess charisma or chutzpah, or because there is something special about them.

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Arbitration occurs when a private tribunal, rather than a court, adjudicates a particular issue. Usually, the rules in arbitration are more relaxed than they are in civil litigation, but different tribunals or arbitration service providers have different procedures that can be very close to or very different from court procedures. Sometimes corporate employers force workers to agree to arbitrate their disputes based on a clause in their employment agreement. A worker is then forced to agree to arbitrate any employment issue if they want to be employed by the employer.

The judicial system, and in particular the United States Supreme Court, has enabled corporations to force their employees into arbitration to adjudicate all types of legal violations, including those related to employment discrimination and wage and hour disputes. This means that corporations have the power to write rules and design the procedures that apply to them in case they discriminate against their employees or fail to pay them their wages properly under law. Forced arbitration, as ratified by the judiciary, denies workers their right to bring a lawsuit against an employer for serious legal violations and have the dispute judged by a jury.

This is important because employees win less often in arbitration than in court. When they do win, they receive lower damages awards. Some arbitration clauses even require the losing party to pay the arbitration fees, including their employer’s attorneys’ fees. This deters workers from bringing their claims and exercising their rights.

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