May 3, 2017
The trial in Ms. Atwood’s discrimination/retaliation case against Hanford Contractor MSA, which was set to begin on May 1, 2017, was postponed owing to unresolved motions, including a sanctions motion filed in February by Ms. Atwood. Since the February filing, plaintiff alleges that MSA continued to engage in additional pre-trial misconduct in violation of a court order, including dumping 6,500 documents on plaintiff, which should have been produced in 2016, two weeks before trial. The latest production includes more documents from MSA’s former general counsel (see below).
The current motion seeks the harshest sanction: entering a default judgment for the plaintiff. Jack Sheridan, Ms. Atwood’s attorney, stated, “MSA has unlimited resources and unlimited time. They have no incentive to comply with court orders. They win by dragging this case out until Ms. Atwood runs out of resources. The only way to deter MSA and their attorneys from ongoing misconduct is to enter judgment for the plaintiff on liability and proceed to trial on damages. Otherwise this case, which was filed in 2015, may drag on for another year or more.”
On February 3, 2017, pursuant to plaintiff’s motion to compel production of MSA’s former general counsel’s EEOC complaint and other such documents, Benton County Judge Carrie Runge ordered MSA to produce the documents “without further delay.” The day before, MSA had filed an emergency motion requesting that the subpoena be stricken. In a sworn statement in support of the motion, MSA’s attorney stated, “I also noted that any claims by [MSA’s former general counsel] against MSA, who voluntarily left MSA over two years after Ms. Atwood’s employment ended, was nothing more than a fishing expedition designed to harass MSA.”
MSA’s motion was heard by Judge Bruce Spanner on February 7, 2017. The “fishing expedition” argument was repeated, but Judge Spanner denied MSA’s motion nevertheless.
The next day, MSA produced sixteen pages of documents pursuant to Judge Runge’s order, which included the EEOC complaint filed by MSA’s former general counsel.
Jack said, “In my view, MSA sought to mislead two judges and the plaintiff by making a bad faith argument claiming that plaintiff was on a “fishing expedition” for irrelevant documents, all the while withholding the very relevant documents in violation of Judge Runge’s order, which required that they be produced ‘without further delay.'”
Jack said, “MSA did not produce the documents related to MSA’s former general counsel before the hearing with Judge Spanner. Instead they orchestrated this so I had to make my argument to Judge Spanner against quashing the subpoena without being able to show Judge Spanner the EEOC complaint and other documents, which would have clearly shown that this was not a fishing expedition. This misleading behavior by MSA violates the Civil rules and justifies sanctions.”
The deposition of MSA’s former general counsel went forward on February 10, 2017. At the deposition, Jack learned that:
- MSA’s former general counsel was hired as MSA’s general counsel by then CEO Frank Figueroa, who treated her as a colleague and with respect.
- When Frank Armijo replaced Figueroa, Armijo took away many of her duties, and at a meeting, in front of other executives, told her to “You need to shut up.” Armijo did not treat men this way.
- Over time, MSA’s former general counsel complained to MSA’s Board “how Frank Armijo, Dave Ruscitto, Todd Beyers, and later Stan Bensussen, had unlawfully treated me.” The Board took no action.
- She was demoted by Armijo, but without losing salary, and was replaced by Stan Bensussen, who had been doing contract work MSA before being hired as general counsel. She testified that Bensussen called her a “man hater,” and told her that day he said, “You should kiss the ground they walk on that you still have a job.”
- MSA’s former general counsel testified that she was not paid comparably as compared to MSA men, and that she was driven out.
Much of this is summarized in her response to the EEOC, which is Exhibit 6 to the Sheridan Dec.
The plaintiff seeks additional discovery, attorney fees and costs, and the imposition of a penalty. Judge Runge will hear the plaintiff’s motion for contempt and sanction at 8:30 on April 14, 2017.
The defendant had sought to have Judge Runge reconsider her order compelling MSA to produce documents. That motion was denied.