A $2 million jury verdict in favor of Jeffrey Chen, the former chief of police in Medina, Washington, was reversed by a federal judge as unsupported by the evidence. Seattle Weekly News reports that the trial judge in the case determined that the jury reached its verdict because of passion or prejudice based on Chen’s attorney’s improper remarks at trial. Although Chen’s favorable verdict was reversed, he will be able to retry his race discrimination lawsuit if he chooses to do so.
The district judge in this case determined that a lot of the evidence of racial prejudice in Chen’s case was improper and should not have been presented to the jury. Some of that evidence included coworkers’ allegedly asking Chen if “you people” eat turkey at Thanksgiving or calling him a “smiling Chinaman.” However, it was uncertain whether those comments were actually said or whether it was Medina city employees who said those things. In addition, some of those comments were too far-removed from the city of Medina and the city manager for them to be held liable. In other instances, employees who made racist remarks were disciplined for their conduct.
The improper evidence should not have gone before the jury, but it was slipped into the record by Chen’s attorney. Based on these “irregularities” from Chen’s attorney, the judge determined that they relied “innuendo and subterfuge rather than on evidence” in order to win their discrimination claim. The district judge determined that any reasonable attorney would have known that the improper evidence should not have been presented to the jury.
This case is a good illustration of how many factors go into trying and winning a discrimination lawsuit—and in keeping that win. One obvious factor is discrimination. If an employee has not been a victim of discrimination, then there is no discrimination lawsuit. Another factor is evidence of discrimination. However, there are limits to what kind of evidence is allowed to be presented in court. The Washington State Rules of Evidence and the Federal Rules of Evidence dictate the kinds of evidence that attorneys are allowed to use in court.
It is also important to remember that a favorable jury verdict does not guarantee a payout to an employee who has suffered discrimination. Like in this case, it is possible for a judge to reverse a verdict if the judge believes it is unsupported by the evidence in the case. In addition, the party that loses at trial is allowed to appeal that decision to a higher court, which might reverse the result at trial.
With any lawsuit, there are many different things that an attorney must keep track of in order to ensure the best possible result. Skilled employment attorneys have experience in keeping track of all of the different elements of a case and can help give you the best chance at winning your discrimination claim.