Case Studies

Lewis Rice Attorneys Win Significant Title IX Case for Saint Louis University in U.S. Court of Appeals

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled unanimously in favor of Lewis Rice client, Saint Louis University, in an action involving Title IX and several other Missouri common law tort and statutory claims. Lewis Rice attorneys Neal F. Perryman and Sarah E. Mullen successfully represented the University, both in the trial court and on appeal. Neal argued the matter before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The plaintiff sued the University, attempting to hold it responsible for damages resulting from an alleged off-campus sexual assault, as well as an alleged back injury which the plaintiff claimed she suffered as the result of her participation in intercollegiate athletics. After lengthy trial court litigation, District Judge Henry E. Autrey granted summary judgment to the University on all claims, holding, among other things, that the University's conduct toward the plaintiff was not "clearly unreasonable" as a matter of law, and that the plaintiff's other statutory and other common law claims failed.

On appeal, the judgment was affirmed in all respects, holding that the University's conduct was not shown "to exhibit deliberate indifference" and that the University could not be held liable under Title IX or any other attempted tort or statutory theory.

Victory in FMLA and MHRA Suit

An eight-member jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri unanimously entered a defense verdict in favor of Lewis Rice client Shade Tree Services Company, and against Bruce Anderson, who had sued claiming employment discrimination and retaliation.

Mr. Anderson claimed that Shade Tree demoted and then fired him because of his alleged disability, namely, a past addiction to prescription pain medication, and because he took medical leave to obtain treatment for this disability. His claims were brought under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). The MHRA claim raised novel issues of discrimination law regarding whether an individual who was "currently addicted" to a controlled substance could nevertheless prevail if that substance was a medication prescribed by a physician. Judge E. Richard Webber agreed with Shade Tree's statutory interpretation and allowed all relevant evidence to be admitted. The jury reached a verdict in favor of Lewis Rice's client, despite the fact that the MHRA carries a lenient standard of proof in which an employee can recover even if his disability was merely a contributing factor (as opposed to a motivating or determinative factor) in his demotion or discharge.

Missouri Municipality Requires Overhaul of Personnel Procedures Manual

The Client

A large Missouri municipality

The Problem

The client had a personnel procedures manual that had not been overhauled in decades.

The Approach

Brian Pezza went back to square one, synthesizing the existing manual with municipal ordinances, personnel codes, police department general orders, fire department standard operating guidelines, and multiple collective bargaining agreements. The project involved input from the client's top administrative, Human Resources, and legal officials.

The Result

When completed, the 100+ page manual was distributed to all employees electronically, and it clearly conveyed the administration's personnel policies to all stakeholders.

Tree-Trimming Business Faced with FMLA Retaliation and Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

The Client

A small, family-owned tree-trimming business

The Problem

The client was faced with an ongoing FMLA retaliation and disability discrimination lawsuit in Missouri federal court. The client's lead outside attorney withdrew to take another job, and the firm representing the client closed its doors.

The Approach

Shortly after the case arrived at Lewis Rice, Brian Pezza took over the file, reviewed the work done to date, and prepared a strategy. With little time remaining before trial, Brian re-took the plaintiff's deposition, uncovered discrepancies in his story, and used them to discredit his testimony at trial.

The Result

After three days of testimony, it took the jury only 27 minutes of deliberation before it issued a defense verdict on all counts.

Manufacturer Faced with OSHA Lawsuit

The Client

A large international manufacturing company

The Problem

The client terminated an engineer who had complained internally about a workplace safety violation several months earlier. The former engineer then contacted OSHA, which launched a whistleblower investigation into his allegations of retaliation.

The Approach

After initial efforts at settlement were unsuccessful, Brian Pezza coordinated the company's response to OSHA's on-site investigation. He interviewed employees, composed a defense strategy, and prepared various witnesses (including supervisors and plant managers in Missouri and the former company president in Japan) to provide testimony.

The Result

OSHA agreed with the company's position that the employee had been terminated due to the elimination of his position, and not out of any retaliatory motivation. The determination was upheld by OSHA's Directorate of Whistleblower Protection Programs in Washington, DC, and the complaint was dismissed.

Health Care Executive Faces Potential Wrongful Termination

The Client

A senior health care executive

The Problem

The client, who had served as Chief Operating Officer, had worked to create the health care organization from the ground up and to grow it into a significant player in the state's healthcare sector. Years later, the founding executive director retired, and a new executive director arrived with a new team and strategic plan that deviated substantially from the practices that the client had implemented. The client's situation was becoming untenable.

The Approach

Brian worked with the client to analyze the terms of his employment agreement and to develop a strategy that would place him in the best position in the event his employer tried to terminate his contract. When the inevitable termination attempt took place, Brian negotiated the employee's departure with the employer's outside counsel.

The Result

Brian and his client obtained a favorable settlement beyond the severance terms in the employment agreement, allowing the client flexibility and time to consider future opportunities.

Lewis Rice Lawyers Win Case that Further Protects Hospitals from Damage Lawsuits Based on Medical Staffing Decisions

Lewis Rice attorneys prevailed in a challenge to a St. Louis area hospital's decision to remove a physician from its medical staff. In Ralph v. St. Anthony's Med. Ctr., the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District ruled unanimously in favor of St. Anthony's Medical Center (SAMC) in connection with Dr. Ralph's challenge to the hospital's medical staffing privileges decision and provided a clear statement of law in this area. Dr. Ralph had sued SAMC, seeking damages from a claim that it improperly removed him from the medical staff. The trial court rejected Dr. Ralph's claims, and he appealed.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeals held:

Missouri law is clear—Dr. Ralph may only bring an action in equity for injunctive relief to compel SAMC to substantially comply with its bylaws and may not maintain an action for damages premised upon such alleged failure. The trial court did not err in granting SAMC's motion to dismiss Dr. Ralph's Second Amended Petition bringing a claim for damages for tortious interference with his business expectancy."

SAMC was represented by Lewis Rice attorneys Neal F. Perryman at the court of appeals and David W. Gearhart at the trial court. Lewis Rice attorneys had previously secured another important victory for their hospital client on this subject. Neal represented SAMC in the seminal case Egan v. St. Anthony's Medical Center, which held that Missouri hospitals should not be subject to actions for damages based on their medical staffing decisions and announced a narrow procedure by which such staffing decisions may be reviewed by courts in equity.

Lewis Rice Defends St. Anthony’s Medical Center against Joint-Employer Claim

An employee filed lawsuit against St. Anthony's Medical Center and one of its supervisory level employees, alleging that St. Anthony's was a joint-employer with the plaintiff's actual employer. St. Anthony's and the supervisory level employee moved to dismiss the lawsuit on various grounds, including on the grounds that neither St. Anthony's nor the employee were proper defendants that could be sued for employment discrimination under either State or Federal law. After significant briefing, our clients' motion to dismiss was granted in its entirety.

Neal Perryman served as lead counsel on this matter. By taking immediate dispositive action, we were able to end the federal litigation on an initial motion and do so without expensive discovery and further litigation.

Lewis Rice Defends Graybar against Federal Disability and Race Discrimination Claims

Plaintiff filed a case in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Mississippi, asserting federal disability and race discrimination claims, as well as state law claims for defamation and breach of an alleged employment contract. Graybar removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on May 2, 2014, where it is currently pending. Graybar filed a Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment on all counts. The case successfully settled before trial.

Key decisions included the removal of the case to federal court, and a targeted and well-executed discovery plan. This allowed us to represent our client in an efficient and effective manner. Neal Perryman serves as lead counsel on this case.

Lewis Rice Defends Whelan Security against a Disability Discrimination and Retaliation Claim

On October 18, 2014, Plaintiff sued Whelan in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, alleging disability discrimination and retaliation under state and federal law. Following discovery, and the filing of a comprehensive summary judgment motion, the case settled on a confidential basis. The case was dismissed on October 14, 2015.

Key decisions in this case included a targeted, well-orchestrated and executed discovery plan, and thorough preparation of witnesses. Neal Perryman served as supervisory and co-counsel on this matter for Whelan.

Lewis Rice Attorneys Successfully Guide National Banking Organization through OFCCP Audits

Lewis Rice attorneys handled the annual preparation of multiple Affirmative Action Plans (AAP) for a national banking organization with retail banking operations at more than 100 locations throughout the United States. We prepared a strategy whereby all retail employees were "rolled up" into one of a small number of corporate AAPs, greatly increasing the utility of the Plans and the efficiency of the data gathering process. In addition, we counseled federal contractors on the numerous and expanding non-AAP obligations they face every day.

In the first of two consecutive annual audits by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), our approach was approved and the audit was closed. The next year, OFCCP conducted a compensation audit on another location, and we successfully guided the client through the audit, which again concluded with a finding of no violations.

Lewis Rice Defends Automotive Dealer Against Violation of the Missouri Human Rights Claims

The Plaintiff claimed he was subjected to a hostile work environment and that his employment was terminated because of his race, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act. The Plaintiff attempted to assert claims against both his direct employer and the parent company of his direct employer.

Lewis Rice attorney Sarah E. Mullen defended both the parent entity and the direct employer against the Plaintiff's claims. She managed discovery, and prevailed on several discovery motions, resulting in sanctions entered against the Plaintiff and an award of fees to her client. Sarah also achieved dismissal of the Plaintiff's claims against the parent entity. Shortly after Sarah conducted the Plaintiff's deposition, she was able to negotiate a very favorable settlement of all claims.

In Summary Judgment, Federal Court finds Unfounded Claims of Hostile Work Environment, Race Discrimination, and Retaliation in Washington Federal Court

Last month, Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, a United States District Judge for the Western District of Washington, entered summary judgment in favor of longtime Lewis Rice client Graybar Electric Company, Inc. in a race discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiff had alleged claims of hostile work environment, race discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII and the Washington Law Against Discrimination against Graybar. Specifically, Mr. Copeland claimed he faced a racially hostile work environment and that, his supervisors failed to remediate. Mr. Copeland also claimed that his employment with Graybar was later terminated on grounds of race discrimination and as retaliation for going over his supervisors’ heads to complain to upper management regarding the alleged hostile work environment.

After thorough discovery requests, interrogatories, and third-party subpoenas, as well as 13 depositions taken by the parties in this case, Lewis Rice elicited evidence that Mr. Copeland’s claim of a hostile work environment boiled down to several isolated issues with one co-worker that were not racially motivated. Lewis Rice further demonstrated that Mr. Copeland’s termination was based on his history of workplace disruptions with multiple coworkers that preceded his complaint to upper management and escalated in the following days, culminating in verbally abusive encounters with two different coworkers. 

After the completion of discovery, Lewis Rice filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts of the case showed that Graybar was owed judgment on all claims as a matter of law. Despite the high standards of such a motion, the Court agreed with Lewis Rice granting summary judgment in favor of Graybar. As Judge Rothstein explained, “Plaintiff claims he was subjected to only a few discrete, isolated incidents, occurring many months apart during a span of over two years, which were neither extremely serious, nor frequent and pervasive, and are thus not sufficient to constitute a hostile work environment.” Judge Rothstein also held that Graybar “took timely and adequate measures in response to each complaint Copeland made.” She also rejected Mr. Copeland’s claims that Graybar terminated him on account of his race. Finally, Judge Rothstein agreed that Mr. Copeland’s claims of a pattern of workplace disruptions, which continued after his complaint to upper management, broke any causal link between his complaint and termination. In short, Mr. Copeland’s retaliation claim could not survive based solely on temporal proximity, even if that proximity was only nine days.

Lewis Rice attorneys Neal F. Perryman (Chair of the Litigation Department) and Benjamin M. Farley successfully represented Graybar. Lewis Rice was assisted by local counsel Jessica Jensen, a partner at Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC. The decision is reported as Copeland v. Graybar Electric Company, Inc., 2:22-CV-280, 2023 WL 4421805 (W.D. Wash. July 10, 2023).