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Let me start off by saying that I truly believe that the United States has the best justice system in the world. With that said, our justice system is far from perfect. When it comes to pursuing an employment claim, it’s important to keep in mind that the justice system, like any complex machinery, has its quirks. Laws can be open to interpretation, and judges or jurors might see things differently than you do. It’s like showing your favorite movie to a friend and they don’t quite get why you love it so much.

It is important to remember that the court system is made up of and wholly reliant on real people – judges and jurors. Real people see things differently. Real people make mistakes. Our employment laws have addressed the problems and risks associated with appearing before judges in the past. Our wrongful termination lawyers address how sometimes judges will misunderstand the law or even twist the law to reach a just outcome.

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Today, our employment lawyers are using a recent United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit case to address another problem that may arise with judges – their inherent prejudices. This week, in United States v. Liggins, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of Defendant Leron Liggins because the district court judge appeared racially prejudice. Specifically, during a pretrial hearing where Liggins pulled back on his stated intention to enter a guilty plea, the district judge got frustrated and told that Liggins, who is Black, that he “look[ed] like a criminal to me” and was doing “what criminals do.”  Liggins moved for the district judge’s recusal based on these apparent racial comments, which the judge denied. In denying the recusal motion, the judge apologized: “And I want to say right now directly to Mr. Liggins I’m sorry, I apologize for getting upset.  I did that because, A, I thought we were going to have a guilty plea; B, I thought that the colloquy was getting out of hand; and C, I lost my head.”

Is the judge a racist?  Probably not in the sense that he hates anyone of a particular race. But, like many people, he probably has some engrained racial biases that can come out in the heat of anger or frustration. As important as it is to understand that judges may have some biases that impact the handling of cases, it is equally if not more important to understand that judges will – from time to time – get angry or frustrated. It may be because the parties did something to frustrate the judge; or it may have nothing to do with the case. Just like everyone else in this world, judges have lives outside of the courtroom. A judge may be upset on the day you show up for court because he or she had a fight with their spouse or one of their parents is having health problems. Your case may be impacted by the fact that a driver cut off the judge while driving into work and then flipped her the bird. Judges are impacted by bad days or events just like everyone else and sometimes they lose their head.

Indeed, on appeal after Liggins was convicted, the government argued that it was acceptable for a judge to lose his cool: “The government concedes that the district judge should not have ‘lost his temper,’ but argues that the court’s frustration was ‘understandable’ based on Liggins’ conduct during pretrial proceedings.”

In United States v. Liggins, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals would not accept even the momentary lapse of decorum from the district court judge:

Difficult as the recusal standard may be to reach, we find that the district judge’s unacceptable remarks at the January 30, 2020 hearing satisfy it.  Among the many disparaging remarks about Liggins that the district judge made, the most troubling is that Liggins “looks like a criminal to me.”  We are highly concerned by this remark, especially when directed toward Liggins, an African American man.  Even if one were to assume a lack of racial bias on the part of the district judge, the remark nevertheless raises the specter of such bias.

So, Liggins will go back to the district court, get assigned a new judge, and have a new trial.

And while you may be thinking that a judge’s prejudice or temper will always be fixed on appeal, this case is the unlikely outcome on appeal. Keep in mind that many judges will not overtly share their prejudices on the record and that the reversal rate in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is only about five percent.

Importantly, this blog is not intended to discourage you from bringing a sexual harassment or national origin, age, race/color, gender identity, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or disability discrimination case, but to help you brace for potential curveballs. With the right legal guidance and a good understanding of how the system operates, you’ll be better equipped to navigate these twists and turns. Just like a GPS recalculates your route when you make a wrong turn, with the help of the right attorney you can adjust and keep moving towards your goal.

Furthermore, employers have to deal with the same risks that come with judges and jurors being real live people. That bakes risk inherently into the litigation process. As result of the inherent risk as well as the cost of litigation, both parties are forced to compromise and look toward settlement, which is why over 97 percent of employment cases eventually settle.

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Feeling discriminated at work because of your race or gender? Call Spitz now.

Employment discrimination cases are complex not only because of the variety of laws and required procedures that apply, but also because of knowing how to deal with judges, opposing counsel, and jurors. To give your case the best chance of succeeding, you need an employment law firm that has a stellar reputation with the Court and the experience standing before jurors. If you were wrongfully fired today and want to sue for age, disability, sexual orientation, or any other form of unlawful discrimination in the workplace, it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?). Call our top employment lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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The content on the Spitz employment law website functions as an advertisement. The materials addressing race, gender, national origin, and disability discrimination found at the top of this page and on the wrongful termination website serve solely for informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. Should you require legal guidance regarding a workplace issue, it is advisable to reach out to our skilled attorneys to receive advice tailored to your specific employment law concern.

Please be aware that using and browsing this employment law website or any of its linked resources does not establish an attorney-client relationship. The legal viewpoints expressed on this site are the personal opinions of the respective lawyer and may not necessarily mirror the perspectives of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any other individual attorney.

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