Seattle Lawyers May Want to Have Coffee Ready in Job Bias Cases


• Seattle-area workers face better odds than other litigants of getting to trial after evidentiary exchange
• But trick is getting there, as employers batting nearly .500 on earlier dismissals bids


It’s said that timing is everything, but Amazon , Starbucks , Microsoft , and other western Washington employers don’t do a whole lot better getting workers’ bias claims thrown out of court on the eve of trial than they do soon after a lawsuit is filed.

That’s a break from the pattern Bloomberg Law has found with federal district courts in New York, Alabama, and Illinois. Judges in those courts toss employment cases just prior to trial at rates that are respectively 7.8, 15.5, and 20.7 percentage points higher than the rates at which they dismiss job lawsuits in the early stages, before the parties have begun exchanging evidence and preparing to present their case to a jury.

Judges in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, by comparison, dismiss employment lawsuits just prior to trial at a rate less than 3 percentage points higher than they throw out cases just after they are filed.

That means the considerable settlement leverage employers in those other parts of the country might gain over workers as an employment case drags on—and litigation costs add up—isn’t as great for companies facing job discrimination or similar claims before federal judges in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellingham, Wash.

What’s more, the 52.3 percent rate at which Western District of Washington judges toss employment cases just before trial is lower than the collective rates at which their brothers and sisters in the Eastern District of New York, the Northern District of Alabama, and the Northern District of Illinois nix workers claims at that stage of a case.

Workers Elsewhere Generally Do Better Early On

Those findings should be welcome news to the 5.2 million current, future, and wanna-be workers who make their home in the U.S. coffee capital and neighboring cities and towns.

But the trick for Seattle-area workers at Boeing , Walmart , Costco , and other companies in the area is getting to trial. That’s because judges in the Western District of Washington dismiss employee cases in the preliminary stages nearly half (49.5 percent) the time.

By contrast, Northern District of Illinois judges grant early dismissals in employment cases at a 36.3 percent rate and Northern District of Alabama judges do so 43.1 percent of the time. The 48.9 percent early dismissal rate at which Eastern District of New York judges give employers early wins is more comparable to how Seattle and other area employees fared. But workers in New York City’s southern outer boroughs and Long Island stand a better chance of getting to trial once they survive early efforts to short-circuit their case.

At issue are two common legal maneuvers employers and other defendants in federal civil cases utilize to get lawsuits thrown out of court. The first is a motion to dismiss, which is filed early on in a case 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 shown each other their 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, although plaintiffs, including employees, sometimes also seek summary judgment and—rarer still—early dismissal of a case.

Western Washington Workers Do Better at Summary Judgment

The findings for the Western District of Washington are based on a review by Bloomberg Law of rulings made between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 27, 2018, by all 13 judges currently sitting on the court who decided at least one dismissal or summary judgment motion this year.

The judges issued a total of 3,414 rulings on motions to dismiss, including in 194 employment lawsuits. They also ruled on 5,212 summary judgment motions over that span, 600 of which came in employment cases.

In all civil cases, the Western District of Washington dismisses cases 59.6 percent of the time. That means workers do quite a bit better in the preliminary stages of an employment case than plaintiffs suing on other grounds typically do.

At the summary judgment stage, western Washington workers do slightly worse than the 50.2 rate at which such motions are granted in all civil cases. But their chances of surviving a summary judgment motion with at least some claims remaining for trial are still better than workers in the other courts, where the rates at which judges grant full dismissals just prior to trial are 56.7 percent (Eastern District of New York), 57 percent (Northern District of Illinois), and 58.6 percent (Northern District of Alabama).

Judge-by-Judge Breakdowns in Employment Cases

Dismissal rates in job cases varied from judge to judge at both stages of the proceedings, although some judges didn’t face very many of either type of motion.

Judges Carolyn R. Dimmick and Barbara J. Rothstein were most likely to side with an employer at the start of a case, tossing employment lawsuits out in their entirety 100 percent of the time they were asked to do so. But Dimmick has only ruled on two such motions over the years and Rothstein just one.

On the other end of the spectrum is Judge Walter T. McGovern, who never fully sided with the employer in any of the six early motions to dismiss he decided in employment cases.

Among judges who ruled on 20 or more motions to dismiss a job lawsuit, Judge Benjamin H. Settle was the one that employers were likely least happy to draw; Settle granted full dismissals in just 25 percent of his cases. Judge Robert S. Lasnik, with his 57.7 grant rate, was the judge companies would seemingly have been happiest to have hear their case.

McGovern saw things much differently at the later stages of an employment case than he did early on, granting 83.3 percent of the summary judgment motions he decided. His sample size was again comparatively small, with only six such rulings.

Among judges who decided 20 or more summary judgment bids, Judge Ricardo Martinez was the most likely to spare a company from trial on some or all of a worker’s claims among the Western District of Washington judges. He granted such motions in full 63.2 percent of the time.

Only five of the 13 judges on the court declined to dismiss an employment case after evidence was exchanged more than half the times they were asked to do so. Dimmick was arguably most worker-friendly, with a grant rate of 33.3 percent in her three rulings. Judge Richard A. Jones was next, completely tossing a case just prior to trial at a 35.7 percent clip.

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.