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Analyzing Dr. Lorena Martin’s Lawsuit and the Mariners’ response

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Examining the claims made by each side, and a framework for thinking about the case

Cleveland Indians v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

With a little breathing room and post-holiday digestion, it’s a good time to begin to dig in more deeply to the state of Dr. Lorena Martin’s lawsuit against the Mariners. If you would like a background refresher, here is a link to our storystream about the case. Also, if you haven’t yet read Dr. Martin’s lawsuit itself, or the Mariners’ response, you can find those original documents at those links. Primary sources are always the best resources, so even if you aren’t a legal scholar, we recommend at least attempting to skim the original documents. From the outset, there are a few things one should try to keep centered in mind as one evaluates the respective claims of each party in this lawsuit:

· The claims are made in different types of documents. Dr. Martin’s are in her formal complaint addressed to the court; the Mariners’ are made in a letter written to a private arbitrator. As discussed in previous stories about the controversy, arbitration is an extrajudicial (but binding) process and so, right from the bat, we can’t quite evaluate the minutiae of each document in the same manner, because they weren’t drafted to the same standard for the same forum.

· Building on that point, the Mariners will have a chance—in what should be a public filing—to make a point-by-point response to Dr. Martin’s allegations. In the meantime, efforts at analysis require fitting together some puzzle pieces to try to square the two sets of claims against each other and themselves. Even now, there are enough direct assertions by each party that there are some facts asserted by each side that cannot be reconciled—the most glaring example being her claim that she repeatedly complained of discrimination, set against the Mariners’ assertion that she raised her claims for the first time after October 10th.

The central point I took away as to the strength of each document is partially explained by that first bullet point above. Dr. Martin’s complaint properly asserts a number of specific, direct, and verifiable actions by the Mariners that she claims violated Washington law. The Mariners’ demand—and again, I want to be fair and acknowledge that these are not the same type of document—is significantly less so. We’re told unnamed persons complained about her work; that she represented herself to other clubs as a medical doctor (which seems at least a little flimsy unless they can point to a clear and specific statement she made to that effect; her role and resume were publicly known and it’s difficult to see even the possibility that she could say this to someone who worked in the baseball/medicine arena without being caught out as a liar quickly); and that she never raised any of these claims until after being relieved of her duties.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the Mariners have evidence of all of this and it isn’t submitted in the demand for arbitration—if they did have that evidence, I wouldn’t expect it to appear here, frankly. However, the language in the demand is carefully hedged: Dr. Martin is reported to have designed her own medical treatments, and trainers reported concerns about her misrepresentations. Yes, it’s nitpicky, but it’s an odd way to blunt the force of the language and slightly tweak the nature of the assertions. Right now, the Mariners’ assertions are somewhat vague and nebulous, making their case—for now—more circumstantial than it needed to be, and than would have been most effective, and that does leave one to question why their counsel worded it so particularly.

While Dr. Martin’s complaint does not, mostly, have these difficulties, it has its own problems. Mostly these the type of problem that is endemic to a discrimination complaint: only the most racist of unicorn employers would overtly say “yeah… didn’t think having a Latina around was a good idea and I was right. Bye!” Even the specific assertions about specific statements made to her, generally, don’t state discrimination directly, even if they invoke race—to wit, Jerry Dipoto’s alleged “cocky Latina” comment. If established, that certainly bolsters her case, but does so because of the surrounding context and implication of the statement, not the content of the statement itself. This discrimination case, like almost all others, will continue to be circumstantial and rely on building from a number of individually explainable actions to make the case for illegal conduct considered as a whole. Note, again, that this is not a fatal flaw. It’s inherent to these cases.

There’s a useful procedural tool we can use to think about how much we don’t know at this stage: what’s colloquially known as a 12b6 motion (named after the Federal rule of civil procedure governing such motions, though it has a functional equivalent in every state court). A 12b6 motion is a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.* Disregarding the minutiae of a 12b6 pleading, you can see the sort of thing we’re looking for here: the party making a 12b6 motion asserts that even when granting every factual assertion in the complaint, there is no legally cognizable injury or relief that they can obtain (or, put in plain English, there is no legal remedy that the court can impose, because no law was violated).. In reality, 12b6 motions or their state court equivalents are not commonly granted, and pleadings are construed liberally in the early stages to allow them to continue. I certainly do think a court evaluating Dr. Martin’s complaint against such a motion would deny the motion, as the factual assertions are significant and specific enough that they certainly can plausibly work to establish discrimination depending on what evidence is presented to support them.

*The Mariners actually make a functionally equivalent claim in their arbitration demand, that she failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted in mediation, but assuming she made the same claims in mediation, I’m not so sure they’re correct.

Rather than thinking procedurally, it’s valuable to borrow the 12b6 standard to use against both parties in your own mind. This is a useful dialectic mechanism to try to rise above whatever preexisting conception of the case one has—and we all have one, of course—to test the claims in their most favorable light, even if one came in doubting it. It is a difficult test of intellectual honesty, but the most valuable one at this stage. If you grant every assertion in Dr. Martin’s complaint as true, can you credibly argue that she was not discriminated against? On the other hand, disregarding her complaint momentarily, if you grant every assertion in the Mariners’ arbitration demand, could you credibly conclude that she was discriminated against? Against that test, both parties’ claims hold up well—that points to a need for more evidence to establish or defeat each party’s claims to judge the overall merits of the situation.

At the end, all of this points to the same thing: truthfully, it’s too early to decide much of anything about this lawsuit. Thanks to Kate’s excellent work dissecting Washington discrimination law, it seems likely that many more of these claims will be tested in court rather than private arbitration. That will be valuable; my own view right now is if someone tells you that it’s obvious she’s a disgruntled ex-employee, or that it’s obvious the Mariners discriminated against her, then that’s the result of their own background assumptions. The case will need a lot more development before much of a judgment can be made. In the meantime the best thing to do is view each side with a skeptical eye.