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Dr. Lorena Martin sues Mariners, alleges discrimination complaints to executives were ignored

The lawsuit has officially been filed, revealing a full list of more specific grievances in Dr. Martin’s claim of wrongful termination.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

As you’re aware, it has been an uncomfortable offseason for Mariners fans. The organization’s ongoing investigation by MLB has cast a pall on what is already a challenging offseason on the baseball end. If you’d like a refresher on where the story stands right now, here is a link to our storystream on this situation. We have not had updates to the story since Dr. Lorena Martin first levied accusations of racism and sexism towards the Mariners organization, and GM Jerry Dipoto, Manager Scott Servais, and Director of Player Development Andy McKay in particular, but today that changed.

We are fortunate to employ a lawyer on staff in Tim Cantu, and have the benefit of several more in our community. Like everyone’s favorite moderator, we noticed the case number was included in the comments of an article yesterday, as well.

We will have a more analysis-based breakdown of the lawsuit itself from Tim later, but as a twice-former legal assistant I will simply pull a few of the key quotes from the Seattle Times’ piece (I encourage you to also read yourself, of course). Additionally, here is a link to the lawsuit itself, if you would prefer to dig through it directly.

For a preliminary lawyer’s perspective, however, Tim has chipped in this:

  • Let’s start at the most basic level. This is Dr. Martin’s initial filing in this case, and consists solely of unrebutted allegations. That doesn’t mean they can’t prove true, but it does mean any evaluation we’d like to make of them has to be circumscribed by the fact that the Mariners have had no opportunity to offer a legal defense, nor to deny the claims outright. I would assume the Mariners will outright deny many of these rather than offer a legal defense.
  • I will dive into more depth on this later, but at an initial reading, it seems to me that much of this is offered as circumstantial evidence to bolster the central claims. Reducing Dr. Martin’s duties, as a general matter, is not inherently problematic, though it could be. In concert with some of the other allegations in this complaint, it becomes a much bigger legal problem.
  • Dr. Martin makes eight specific claims as to laws that were violated by the Mariners, harming her: (1) Racial and Gender discrimination under Washington law; (2) Retaliation for making a protected complaint about that discrimination; (3) She was wrongfully terminated as a result of that discrimination; (4) after termination, the Mariners breached her contract by not paying her severance and had no “Cause” for not doing so, under her contract; (5) Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress; (6) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (7) Negligent Supervision [of Dipoto, McKay, and Servais]; and (8) Negligent Retention [of the same]. Looking at these, you can see how they sort of arise in a chain and not from all the same instances of conduct. Some of them relate to post-termination, some of them relate to employment conduct. The explosive and controversial allegations are those relating to pre-termination conduct, where she is claiming discrimination.
  • So where do we go from here? Legally, the next step will be the Mariners filing their “Answer”, which will admit, deny, or offer a defense to each cause of action. I would expect the Mariners to mostly deny, then say even if the facts happened, they were not illegal for reasons x, y, and z. After that, there would--barring the parties settling, which is possible--be a finding at some point in favor of one party or the other on each count. The legal standard for a claim such as this is “preponderance of the evidence”--since this is not criminal, and the parties are legally on equal footing, essentially the standard is a 51% chance of being correct in favor of either party. Right now, in my view, it’s very early to assess the likelihood of victory on each claim, since we only have the bare assertions and little supporting evidence--not even, for example, Dr. Martin’s employment contract.
  • Lastly, there was some rumbling on twitter in the immediate aftermath as to whether Scott Servais faces potential penalties from MLB for betting on baseball, a la Pete Rose. In my view, there is no significant chance of this. Betting on a player’s habits off the field, while reprehensible in an instance like this, is not betting “on baseball” in the sense that gets you penalized by Major League Baseball. See the rule:

“Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible”

  • John will chime in himself, I’m sure, but for me, I don’t care—primarily—about the legal outcome here. I’ll be looking to the Mariners’ answer with a close eye, not so much to make a legal evaluation, but for equivocation and bush-beating that are signs, to me, that they are trying to glide out and escape trouble. For the moment, I find Dr. Martin’s factual claims deeply troubling in that they are specific, clear statements of things done by Mariners personnel that, while they may or may not be illegal, are not acceptable. To me, it is entirely possible the Mariners will win this lawsuit and be no less culpable morally.

To the story, plenty rehashes points we already know. Dr. Martin alleges Servais told her she was not welcome in the clubhouse, and when pressed on the reasoning stated it was because she was a woman and made others uncomfortable. The lawsuit expands on that, and alleges Dr. Martin’s responsibilities were very tangibly impacted by that experience with both Servais and Dipoto:

Servais later barred her from attending clubhouse meetings during spring training because she was a woman, and Dipoto did nothing about it, the lawsuit states. Martin contends in the suit Dipoto and Servais “took affirmative measures to undermine and harm” star pitcher Hernandez by “messing with”his mental state. The Mariners throughout that month had let it be known they were contemplating pulling Hernandez from the rotation and putting him in the bullpen – which they finally did in early August.hat her travel with the team was subsequently reduced from 60 days to 12 and that Dipoto barred her from traveling the first two months, saying: “I don’t want the players getting a need for you.”

Both sides agree Dr. Martin’s role with the organization was reduced, particularly her travel, but the reasons behind that shift are clearly a point of contention. The inability to travel with the team, according to Dr. Martin, hamstrung her efforts, including a specific incident where Félix Hernández specifically requested she join the team for a road trip to continue his training. Dr. Martin claims she and Hernández were rebuffed.

Martin contends in the lawsuit that Hernandez had asked the Mariners to allow her to accompany the team on a late-June trip to New York, Boston and Baltimore to train him, and that Dipoto refused. The pitcher subsequently injured his back.

The lawsuit accuses the Mariners of specifically targeting Hernández, as well as generating an environment where Latino players felt excluded and were blamed for the team’s second-half slide out of playoff contention.

Dipoto and Servais “took affirmative measures to undermine and harm” star pitcher Hernandez by “messing with”his mental state. The Mariners throughout that month had let it be known they were contemplating pulling Hernandez from the rotation and putting him in the bullpen – which they finally did in early August.

Specifically, Servais is accused of gambling on what Hernández’s training schedule. What that pertains to specifically is unclear, although it should be noted this is likely a separate issue from an on-field sort of gambling that might draw the ire of MLB in a different fashion.

...several Latino players complained to Martin about feeling excluded. It also says Dipoto and Servais took midseason steps to deliberately undermine the progress and mental state of Mariners star pitcher Felix Hernandez. Servais, according to the lawsuit, felt Hernandez was lazy, and the manager had even taken to “gambling money” – it does not specify how much or with whom – on what the pitcher’s training schedule would be at any given time.

For the sake of not simply quoting the entire article from Geoff Baker, the lawsuit alleges that not only did Dr. Martin bring her concerns to the Mariners’ HR (a point the Mariners have denied), but she also took her concerns to Mariners CEO John Stanton, Minority Owner Buck Ferguson, and Team President Kevin Mather.

The lawsuit states Mather, after hearing Martin’s complaints that she was “being treated differently’’ by general manager Jerry Dipoto, vowed to address the matter and put a stop to what Mather viewed as bullying. According to the suit, when Martin tried to inform Stanton by telephone about her situation that same month, he cut her off and said he didn’t handle such matters, and he added it was up to Mather and Dipoto to address them. The suit says Stanton also told Martin she should refrain from contacting minority-owner Ferguson about her issues.

Lastly, we see what Dr. Martin is seeking as a result of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring the team from continued discriminatory practices and ordering them to implement policies that provide equal opportunities to all employees. She also seeks compensation for past and future financial losses, as well as full severance benefits for a three-year contract that was to have run through October 2020.

So, in addition to the earlier accusations, we now have a few more alleged examples from Dr. Martin, as well as claims of attempts to communicate these issues to Mariners Human Resources and top brass. The Mariners have yet to offer their latest official response, either via PR or in court, but will likely do so soon, offering an alternative perspective. As stated above, we’ll have a more in-depth analysis coming, but we can be certain that this story isn’t going away any time soon.

Additionally, as a request, this is obviously a contentious topic that brings out frustration. What makes this community great is that, for all our foibles, it is, relative to the rest of the internet, a pretty respectful, thoughtful place for discussion among a diverse group of folks with various backgrounds and experiences. So inasmuch as it is possible, let’s try to maintain that thoughtfulness, when discussing this challenging, upsetting topic.