June 30, 2020
In 2018, after three weeks of trial, a California jury ordered UCLA to pay Dr. Lauren Pinter-Brown $13 million for sexual discrimination and retaliation.
Last month, an appeals court took it all away.
As it happens, when the potential jurors were first seated in the courtroom, the trial judge greeted them by telling them that “The arc of the moral universe is long. Dr. Martin Luther King said these words in 1965. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The judge then went on to say “[i]f you are selected as a juror in this case, your job will be to help bend that arc toward justice.”
He wasn’t finished. Not by a long shot.
The judge then proceeded to discuss civil rights leaders standing up for justice throughout history. Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Caesar Chavez, Harvey Milk. After again telling the jurors that it was “going to be your job to help bend that arc toward justice by rendering a verdict based on the law and the evidence that you are going to be hearing in this case,” the judge concluded his presentation by reciting a passage from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
The appellate court reversed on a number of grounds, but it was clear that the judge’s comments at the outset, alone, would have sunk the verdict. “[T]he remarks of the trial court here were not an impartial call to duty,” the court wrote, “they were a resolute and stirring call to action which stacked the deck against UCLA. It was a grave error for the court to begin a gender discrimination trial with a presentation highlighting the great achievements our nation’s civil rights leaders have made toward creating a world free of discrimination and telling the prospective jurors they were carrying on that quest.”
And you gotta feel for the plaintiff’s attorneys whose 1/3 contingency fee went out the window.