What’s Friday without a little late-night news dump? Geoff Baker from the Times has the latest update on the Mariners-Lorena Martin controversy.
Here’s the deal: over a month ago, the Mariners filed a formal arbitration request, which had been confidential but became public when Dr. Martin’s lawyer, Robin Phillips, filed a motion today (Friday) in King County Superior Court to attempt to stop the Mariners from demanding arbitration—a tricky maneuver, since Dr. Martin’s employment contract itself stipulates any disputes to be heard by an arbitrator. Phillips is arguing that Dr. Martin’s claims of discrimination void the arbitration clause in her contract, as Washington law requires discrimination cases be heard in open court.
Arbitration, for the non-lawyers among us, is when a dispute is heard outside of a court, where both parties agree to be bound by whatever decision the arbiter reaches (provided the arbitration is binding; for a more in-depth definition of arbitration, check out Nolo’s article on the subject). Arbitration is common for corporations or individuals who don’t want a public record of the proceedings and court filings, or for pesky bloggers to dissect everything they do.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Washington lawmakers moved to enact more protections towards those who have suffered domestic violence or been harassed or discriminated against at work. The important law here is S.B. 6313, which bars arbitration in cases where the employee is invoking WLAD, the Washington Law Against Discrimination. S.B. 6313 is a new law that just went into effect this past June, and follows Microsoft ending forced arbitration for employee harassment and discrimination cases in 2017, a process many decried as silencing victims and allowing companies to resolve issues with no public scrutiny. Therefore, Section 13 of Dr. Martin’s employment agreement (viewable as an attachment on Baker’s story), which states that any claims or disputes rising out of the employment agreement (other than Dr. Martin violating the confidentiality clause of the agreement, covered in Section 9) must be settled by an arbitrator, is void, given that Dr. Martin is claiming discrimination under the WLAD, and pursuant to Washington law RCW 49.44.085: an agreement is void and seen to be against public interest if it “requires an employee to resolve claims of discrimination in a dispute resolution process that is confidential.”
The relevant part of the Washington Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60.180 (part 3) deals with unfair practices of employers, and states:
To discriminate against any person in compensation or in other terms or conditions of employment because of age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, honorably discharged veteran or military status, or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability: PROVIDED, That it shall not be an unfair practice for an employer to segregate washrooms or locker facilities on the basis of sex, or to base other terms and conditions of employment on the sex of employees where the commission by regulation or ruling in a particular instance has found the employment practice to be appropriate for the practical realization of equality of opportunity between the sexes.
So under WLAD, Dr. Martin is claiming that she was discriminated against in “terms or conditions of employment.” You can read the suit, and the specifics Dr. Martin alleges, such as they are, here. (NB: We’re still working on an analysis of the suit, done by house lawyer Tim, as it’s quite broad in scope, but in the meantime, even skimming through the document gives you a sense of what’s at stake here.)
Beyond that, this filing also gives a glimpse into what the Mariners are alleging against Dr. Martin in the demand for arbitration. While we’ve seen what Dr. Martin is alleging against the club, we haven’t seen an official response from the Mariners yet. Some important points:
- The document alleges complaints were levied against Dr. Martin by Mariners employees beginning in March of 2018, just months after she was hired and scant weeks after players reported to Arizona for Spring Training. These complaints included Dr. Martin ignoring the advice of other team doctors for treatment of injured players and instead implementing treatments of her own design while representing herself as a medical doctor (Dr. Martin’s doctorate is not in the field of medicine); creating a hostile work environment and threatening to fire those who took their concerns about her work to GM Jerry Dipoto; and attempting to obtain prescription medications for players who had no prescription. The document describes these complaints as both “accumulating” and “overwhelming.”
- The Mariners, in response to the complaints against Dr. Martin, hired an outside investigator to look into the complaints, and when that investigation turned up information that corroborated the complaints, placed her on paid administrative leave in October, pending the conclusion of the investigation and giving her an opportunity to respond to the allegations. Dr. Martin has refused to meet with the investigators.
- The Mariners allege that Dr. Martin did not raise complaints about gender and racial discrimination until after she had been placed on administrative leave.
- At Dr. Martin’s suggestion, the Mariners and Dr. Martin mediated unsuccessfully October 24 until November 12th, the day Dr. Martin went public with her allegations. On November 13th, the Mariners submitted their demand for arbitration.
- The Mariners allege that they fired Dr. Martin with cause, pointing to the termination section of the employment agreement, and highlighting the following clauses, which they claim Dr. Martin violated:
a) refusal or willful failure to carry out the lawful duties as defined in the employment agreement;
d) deception or dishonesty;
e) acts damaging the reputation of the Mariners;
f) other material violations of the agreement.
The Mariners assert Dr. Martin was fired for the above reasons alone, and the causes for her termination were not a hostile nor discriminatory work environment, but for poor performance and dishonesty. The Mariners further assert that while attempting to invoke the WLAD, Dr. Martin has failed to state a specific claim under that law.
- Dr. Martin disputes that she was fired for cause.
- The Mariners claim they are entitled to damages due to Dr. Martin’s violation of the confidentiality agreement binding the employment agreement and the terms of the mediation, as well as defamatory statements and releasing privileged information. The Mariners seek to recoup any legal fees associated with the case as well as additional damages “as deemed just and equitable.”
So now we’ve seen a response, in some form, from the Mariners, to complement the official suit. Dr. Martin’s lawsuit paints a picture of someone being systematically deprived of the duties and responsibilities of her position due to her race and gender; the Mariners’ demand for arbitration paints an entirely different one, of an employee endangering the health and safety of players by falsely claiming expertise in an area she was not accredited for. Dr. Martin claims the workplace was made hostile for her; the Mariners claim she was the element making the workplace hostile. Dr. Martin claims she raised issues of discrimination early in her tenure as a member of the club; the Mariners claim she did not raise those issues until being placed on administrative leave. That last statement, especially, is a clear indication that things are primed to get ugly here, as only one of the two parties can be telling the truth. And if this dispute is solved in a court instead of in arbitration, those ugly details are sure to come out.
[Disclaimer: although LLawyer Tim looked over this article in its early stages, everything I know about the law comes from watching the NBC series Trial and Error. All mistakes and misinterpretations are my own.]