Friday, July 12, 2019

Cleanup - Hernandez's Ohio Claims Dismissed

The US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed umpire Angel Hernandez's claims against MLB under the Ohio Civil Rights Act stemming from a 2018 jurisdiction change. Through a Choice of Law analysis dismissing part of AH's lawsuit (the OH laws), and although New York's civil laws are more employer-friendly than are Ohio's in regard to how damages are constructed, Hernandez's claims against MLB remain very much alive and pending. Hernandez initially filed his suit with a request for a jury trial, and the lawsuit remains active.

Judge J. Paul Oetken's (SDNY) ruling makes zero findings of fact one way or the other on the qualitative content—the meat & potatoes—of Hernandez's discrimination claims. Those charges have yet to be adjudicated.

The racially-motivated discrimination charges in Hernandez v The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball date back to the veteran umpire's initial July 2017 filing in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which alleged the Commissioner's office failed to promote the Cuban-born Hernandez to Crew Chief and to assign him World Series games and that this failure was based on a race-based and illegally discriminatory method of assignment at the hands of employer MLB and Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre.

One of the first things the Park Avenue, New York-headquartered MLB sought to do in response to the suit was file a motion requesting a change of venue from Ohio to New York, which the Court eventually granted, transferring the case to New York Southern on October 3, 2018.

Hernandez's initial charges against the league alleging racially-motivated discrimination were based on the Ohio Civil Rights Act, since the case was filed in Ohio. As a result of the case's transferral to New York, Hernandez's team updated the charges, adding claims related to alleged violations of the New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law to his amended complaint.
Related PostAngel Hernandez Sues MLB for Racial Discrimination (7/3/17).

US District Judge J. Paul Oetken in his decision to grant, in part, MLB's motion to dismiss, agreed with MLB's position that Hernandez's decision to claim violations of both Ohio and New York laws should be approached as a "choice of law" question.

Hernandez's June ejection provoked sports talk.
What that Means: Choice of Law is a legal principle through which one determines which set of laws should apply to a lawsuit, when two or more sets of laws, generally two states, conflict. For the Hernandez v MLB suit, the choice was Ohio vs New York. Because the case was transferred from Ohio to New York, the Court settled on New York, ruling that the NY claims should supersede and replace the Ohio ones.

As such, the Court in granting, in part, MLB's motion to dismiss, by removing the Ohio state charges is a logical move and housekeeping that must be done. For instance, the Court found that Hernandez's allegations do not allege that MLB's decisions to not select him for crew chief and to umpire the World Series were made in Ohio and that Hernandez has not alleged the locus of the challenged employment decisions.

Gil's Call: This is standard litigation forum shopping—a common legal tactic in civil cases employed by plaintiff counsel seeking more favorable outcomes, and defense counsel seeking to quash or limit such favorability. For instance, if an employee wants to file a lawsuit against an employer, and said employee is sent by said employer to multiple states to perform job duties, it would behoove the employee to file the case in whatever jurisdiction whose laws are most favorable, just as it would be wise for the defendant employer to try and steer the forum to their preferred jurisdiction.

In this case, Hernandez choose Ohio because Ohio laws were more friendly to him than New York—specifically as it relates to damage recovery—and MLB chose New York because the League determined New York would be most beneficial for their cause.

Give and Take, OH v NY: As collateral, Hernandez does lose a key avenue of recovery, while MLB loses a cap protection or limit as to amount of damages.
Sidebar: MLB doesn't have a salary cap anyway, so losing a cap shouldn't be a problem.

How the Laws Conflict & Why This Move Helps Both Parties:
> Helps MLB: Under the Ohio Civil Rights Act, plaintiffs may recover punitive damages in employment discrimination actions, whereas under New York law, punitive damages may not be recovered in these same civil actions. Punitive damages can be significantly greater than compensatory damages, so eliminating potential exposure to punitive damages is a win for the league.
> Helps Hernandez: Under Ohio's law, a plaintiff's punitive damages are capped at $250,000 or two times the amount of economic compensatory damages, which in turn shall not exceed $350,000. So while Hernandez cannot recover punitive damages under New York's law, his compensatory damages are not limited by statute.

The Court applied Choice of Law rules.
Gil's Call: First and foremost, any dismissal in tort law, granted in part or otherwise, helps a defendant in a civil lawsuit simply because it's one (or more) less thing for the person accused of wrongdoing to be found liable for. MLB doesn't want to litigate the discrimination issue based on too many different standards, and it certainly doesn't hurt that New York prohibits recovery for punitive damages.

All else equal, clear and convincing evidence (preponderance) usually is cheaper for defendants in states that prohibit plaintiff punitive damage recovery than in states that allow punitive damages, regardless of how the compensatory side plays out.

That could very well be why Hernandez first sought to file the suit in Ohio, and the lack of a damages cap in New York helps him out on the compensatory side of things, although he does lose the avenue of punitive damage recovery. Nonetheless, this trade-off probably helps MLB more than it does Hernandez.

Compensatory vs Punitive Damages: Compensatory damages are a monetary award that a defendant must pay the plaintiff as compensation for harm suffered as a result of the wrong alleged in a lawsuit. For example, if a jury sides with Hernandez, it could award him XYZ amount of dollars to compensate him for harm suffered (e.g., a jury could find that discrimination caused him to miss out on $$ that he would have received had he been promoted to crew chief and/or umpired the World Series, and award him the amount of money he missed out on).

Punitive damages are not a good company look.
Punitive damages go above and beyond compensatory damages by ordering a defendant to pay a penalty to the plaintiff whom they harmed. Punitive damages, unless otherwise stated by law, aren't tied to compensatory decision-making, and are also known as exemplary damages, as in a punishment meant to make an example out of a malfeasant, often to shame a misbehaving defendant, and potentially serve as a deterrent to that defendant and to others.

A large company such as MLB likely hates the concept of punitive damages, so eliminating the possibility of punitive damages is very much a big-PR and personal victory for the league.

For example, in Liebeck v. McDonald's, in which an elderly woman claimed that McDonald's negligently served excessively hot coffee that caused severe burns and related injuries, the jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages for pain, suffering, and medical costs (reduced to $160,000 pursuant to comparative negligence because the jury found her 20% responsible).

Punitive damages can be costly & expensive.
The jury then awarded Liebeck $2.7 million in punitive damages (reduced by the trial judge to $480,000 and settled, in combination with the compensatory damages, for an amount less than $500,000).

Conclusion: So the win for MLB is that they won't be exposed to potential punitive damages, which can be exponentially more costly and headache-inducing than compensatory damages, and the league also gets the entire slate of Ohio charges wiped off the books. For Hernandez, he still gets to retain the New York rules regarding compensatory damages, which are more plaintiff-friendly simply because, unlike Ohio, they aren't capped or limited. That said, because plaintiffs cannot recover for punitive damages in New York, the only potential damages for Hernandez to recover would include the dollar amount(s) by which he would have been compensated had he been (1) promoted to crew chief and/or (2) assigned to work the World Series. The end result is a procedural victory for defendant Major League Baseball.

Video summary & analyzation as follows:

Alternate LinkUEFL analysis of latest legal decision in AH-MLB litigation (CCS)


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