The Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association (MWELA) and Maryland Employment Lawyers Association (MELA) respectfully urge this Court to grant a writ of certiorari in this case. The jury in this matter, properly instructed, determined that Plaintiff Vincent Balderrama, a 58-year old Hispanic man, had engaged in protected activity and that Lockheed Martin had retaliated against him, and rendered an award in his favor under Maryland County Code, MCC § 27-19(c). The Maryland Court of Special Appeals applied an unusually cramped interpretation to “protected activity” and ruled as a matter of law that that Mr. Balderrama’s complaints using terms commonly understood as denoting discrimination could not be found by a jury to mean that he was complaining of discrimination. The Court of Special Appeals further applied an exceedingly narrow reading to actionable discrimination under the Montgomery Country statute, at odds with the inclusive approach taken by the United States Supreme Court to federal anti-discrimination law. The application of these two incorrect legal standards run the risk of narrowing the protections that Maryland law provides against discrimination and retaliation.
First, the Court of Special Appeals held that an employee’s workplace complaint that a negative performance evaluation was based on “prejudice” and that the employee was singled out for mistreatment was not protected conduct. The Court held that an employee must explicitly specify that the “prejudice” was based on membership in a protected class. Employees who believe they are targets of discrimination are ordinarily not lawyers specializing in employment law, however, yet the Court of Special Appeals effectively held them to that standard. Under the Court’s decision, an employee who fails to use magic words such as “race,” “religion” or “age” risks being deprived of the protections that Maryland’s anti-retaliation laws were designed to provide, protections that federal courts already apply to Maryland employees who bring retaliation claims under federal law.
Second, the Court of Special Appeals looked only to the motives of the “ultimate decision-maker” when evaluating the employer’s retaliatory motive, but ignored the actions of purportedly biased supervisors the jury reasonably found were the cause of the employee’s termination. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 562 U.S. 411, 422 (2011), expressly rejected the stilted approach adopted here by the Court of Special Appeals, holding that an employer’s agent acting with discriminatory intent may cause an adverse employment action even though he is not the ultimate decision-maker. The decision below by the Court of Special Appeals holding that an ultimate decision-maker may insulate from challenge an otherwise discriminatory decision, if allowed to stand, might be interpreted to render Maryland’s anti-discrimination protections narrower than those under federal law, undermining the broad remedial purposes of MCC § 27-19(c) and similar Maryland statutes.
Amici urge that this Court to review these errors, and help ensure that Maryland employees continue to enjoy the broad protections from discrimination and retaliation enshrined in Maryland law.
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Welcome to the Web site of MWELA — the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association. We are about 300 lawyers who represent people in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
As advocates for employee rights and civil rights, we work to protect the rights and privileges of employees in both the private and public sectors of the Washington metropolitan area workforce. We are dedicated to promoting workplace fairness and the right of employees to work in an environment free of discrimination. MWELA provides assistance, support and resources to members throughout the metropolitan area to attain the highest ideals of practice and encourage the sharing of expertise and skills to best serve our clients.
On our vibrant and active listserve, MWELA members share strategies, tips, and responses to queries regarding both routine and novel employment law issues. The listserve is also available as an on-line searchable database, a powerful research tool.
MWELA holds monthly Brown Bag gatherings featuring presentations on trial strategies and techniques, emerging employment law issues, use of new courtroom technologies, successful litigation efforts, and other matters critical to a successful employment law practice.
Our Moot Court Committee regularly prepares our members for oral argument before appellate courts. MWELA's Amicus Committee produces thoughtful and excellent briefs on important policy matters before the courts of appeals, lending a powerful persuasive voice for the plaintiff and for employees generally. MWELA produces a monthly Newsletter covering member news, victories, and key decisions.
At our all-day Annual Conference, MWELA presents local and federal judges, colleagues, and outside experts on topics concerning all aspects of the plaintiff's employment practice. We also present our annual Lawyer of the Year award.
MWELA maintains an on-line Brief Bank, with ready arguments, briefs, and pleadings. MWELA works toward changes in public policy through the lobbying efforts of our members, to strengthen anti-discrimination and related workplace laws.
MWELA Case Advisory service offers two programs to both MWELA members and non-members. One is a Three-member Clinic Panel, which reviews a lawyer’s case either before it is filed or after it is pending and possibly encountering difficulties. The other is a Single Advisor Legal Consultation where an experienced MWELA attorney provides advice and tips on a particular topic to a less experienced lawyer. Topics may include areas of substantive law and procedure, litigation and trial practice, appeals, settlement agreements, and particular Court and administrative forums with which a lawyer may be unfamiliar.
MWELA is the local affiliate of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA). NELA and its 68 state and local affiliates have more than 3,000 members. We strongly encourage our members to join NELA. For more information, please contact Ms. Colleen Goodin, Membership Director, NELA, (415) 296-7629 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or go to www.nela.org for an application. MWELA members receive a discount on NELA dues.
MWELA members can access our brief bank, listserve and newsletter archives, board meeting information, and other resources. If you are a lawyer and devote a majority of your employment practice to representing plaintiffs, join us.