Whether it’s an employment case, breach of contract dispute or a personal injury lawsuit, it’s impossible to predict what will happen during litigation. Going to court is an inherently unpredictable process with even the seemingly strong cases sometimes failing to obtain the justice sought by the plaintiff.
There can be a variety of reasons as to why some claims succeed while others do not. But sometimes a plaintiff loses a case because they don’t have the facts to support it. And when plaintiffs find themselves in these types of situations, they often end up having their cases dismissed before they ever get to trial.
The Law Versus the Facts
To win a lawsuit, you need both the facts and the law to be on your side. However, cases will differ in how strong the facts or the law are for each party. You want strong facts and a clear legal remedy to give you the best chances of winning your case. But this often doesn’t happen.
Maybe you have facts that are very sympathetic to your position. But there are questions as to whether your legal arguments are recognized in the state you’re in. Or perhaps you’re pleading a widely-recognized cause of action, but don’t have the most applicable facts for support.
Two recent cases showcase how lawsuits can go in opposite directions based on the facts the plaintiffs have in support of their claims.
Blattner v. Community Action Stops Abuse, Inc.
Daniel Blattner (Blattner) began working as an attorney at Community Action Stops Abuse, Inc. (CASA) in June 2019. During his short tenure at CASA, Blattner alleges that he was the victim of various forms of discrimination because of his age, religion, disability and sex. In support of his assertions, Blattner pled a series of facts in his complaint.
First, CASA told Blattner not to post anything CASA-related on his personal Facebook page. Blattner claims that CASA expressed concerns that the expression of his Christian beliefs on social media might hurt CASA’s ability to raise money. CASA explained that it served a progressive base that might have reservations that a religious person could objectively represent the legal interests of its LGBTQ clients.
Second, Blattner’s superiors harassed him because of his religion by constantly questioning his ability to represent CASA’s clients. Blattner says this created a hostile work environment for him.
Third, due to his chronic back and neck conditions, Blattner requested a special chair at work. But CASA denied the accommodation request on the basis that CASA did not have the financial resources to pay for it.
Fourth, CASA assigned Blattner to a manual labor assignment even though it knew about his bad neck and back.
Fifth, CASA showed preferential treatment toward a young, female paralegal despite her inability to properly do her job. Blattner claims she could not correctly prepare and file certain legal documents and ignored Blattner’s attempts to help her do those tasks properly. When this issue was brought up to management, CASA largely ignored Blattner’s concerns.
Sixth, CASA moved Blattner’s office to a kids’ playroom after which Blattner claims he endured shameful and embarrassing comments from coworkers about his new office location.
Despite having a perfect record in obtaining the legal relief requested by his clients, CASA fired Blattner in August 2019. They gave no reason for the termination other than the fact that he was an at-will employee and was let go during his probationary period.
Ultimately, Blattner brought suit in federal court and alleged age, sex, religious and disability discrimination under applicable federal and state laws. He also brought hostile work environment and failure to accommodate claims.
CASA’s Motion to Dismiss
After Blattner filed his complaint, CASA filed a motion to dismiss. To survive a defendant’s motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to establish that the plaintiff’s claims are plausible.
This means that Blattner didn’t need to prove his case here. Instead, he only needed to show that there was a legal theory that applied to his situation and enough facts to make his allegations more than speculative. The court granted CASA’s motion to dismiss based on the following reasons.
With respect to Blattner’s religious and sex discrimination claims, Blattner could not point to a specific adverse employment action that was directly related to the alleged discrimination. The only workplace conduct that rose to the level of an adverse employment action was his firing. However, nothing in Blattner’s complaint shows that he was fired for any discriminatory reason.
Blattner’s failure to accommodate and disability discrimination claims relied on the assertions that he wasn’t provided the special chair by CASA and he was given an assignment that required physical labor. But Blattner presented no facts in support of the idea that providing the special chair was not an undue burden or that he accepted the manual labor assignment.
The age discrimination claim also failed because Blattner gave no facts that showed a comparatively situated employee (aside from age) was treated differently. While the younger paralegal was treated differently, she was not a comparatively situated employee. Also, Blattner didn’t show that after he was fired, he was replaced with a younger attorney.
The hostile work environment claims might have shown the most promise. But they failed because Blattner didn’t cite enough facts that showed the harassment he endured rose to the necessary level to create a hostile work environment.
Case law makes it clear that offhand comments and isolated incidents will not be enough to establish a hostile work environment in the majority of cases. Blattner made no mention of the details of the events that he used to support his hostile work environment claim. For example, he gave no information as to when they occurred, how often they occurred or in what context they occurred.
Despite the judge dismissing all of his claims, the judge gave Blattner 21 days to file an amended complaint to include additional facts to support his allegations.
Di-az v. Tesla, Inc.
The plaintiffs in this case were Owen Diaz (Diaz) and Demetric Di-az (Di-az) (collectively, Plaintiffs). They claimed that when they worked for Tesla, Inc. through its staffing companies (collectively, Tesla), they had to endure an extensive amount of racial discrimination and harassment. During litigation, the plaintiffs cited the following facts to support their legal claims:
- Two supervisors and eight to ten employees called Diaz the n-word.
- One of the supervisors that used the n-word with Diaz was Ramon Martinez (Martinez) and he used the n-word at least 60 times.
- On at least one occasion, Martinez told Diaz to “go back to Africa.”
- Diaz saw the n-word written as graffiti in several bathrooms at work.
- During an on-site altercation on July 31, 2015, Judy Timbreza used a series of racial slurs toward Diaz, including the n-word.
- Javier Caballero harassed Di-az and called him the n-word on a near-daily basis.
- Di-az saw graffiti in the bathrooms that used the n-word and other offensive statements. For instance, one statement said, “you n—— don’t belong here.”
This is not an inclusive list of all the racial discrimination and harassment the Plaintiffs dealt with at work. But it offers details to support the claims of a hostile environment and discrimination.
After the pleadings and discovery had been completed, Tesla filed a motion for summary judgment which focused primarily on Diaz’s claims.
One of the arguments in Tesla’s motion for summary judgment was that Diaz did not endure pervasive and severe racial hostility at work. Therefore, his hostile work environment racial harassment claims should fail.
But because Diaz could refer to detailed facts in support of his allegations, the court concluded that he provided enough information to survive Tesla’s motion for summary judgment.
Summing Up What These Two Cases Show
Comparing these two cases demonstrates the importance of having sufficient facts to support your legal claims. Diaz and Di-az provided far more details about what happened to them. They gave the names of people who allegedly engaged in harassment, as well as how often the harassment occurred, when they occurred and where.
Providing sufficient facts is especially important when facing a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment. Without enough facts, you may not even get to trial as a plaintiff.