Filing suit in federal court is different. Federal court differs from state court in some key respects. One of these respects concerns attorney withdrawal. In state court, most judges would quickly grant a motion to withdraw. Not so in federal court. In GDC Technics, Ltd. v. Grace, No. 15-CV-488-ML, the Defendant’s counsel asked to withdraw. The motion to withdraw indicates the law firm would suffer financial hardship if the motion was not granted. That assertion suggests the firm was not being paid by the Defendant. The Plaintiff opposed the motion because 1) the trial date was about two months away, and 2) there was a corporate co-Defendant. J.R.G. Design, Inc. cannot appear in court without an attorney. Since Mr. Grace has not paid his current lawyer, argued the Plaintiff, then it is unlikely he would find a new lawyer. Thus, the corporate Defendant would have to be dismissed from the lawsuit, or a default judgment would have to be entered against it.

The Judge agreed. In a Feb. 10, 2017 decision, the court found that if granted, the status of the corporate defendant would be very problematic. Mr. Greace himself could appear in court pro se, but the corporate defendant could not. The court noted the law firm had represented the Defendant for well over a year. It seemed unlikely that the Defendant would be able to hire new counsel now.

A couple of months later, the same law firm, the Snell Law Firm, asked again to withdraw, citing some $44,000 in unpaid bills. The law firm noted that the client appeared to have funds with which to hire new counsel. The claims against Mr. Grace had been dismissed. The only remaining Defendant was J.R.G. Design. And, noted the Snell law firm, the parties had entered into a Joint Notice of Settlement. All the corporate Defendant had to do was settle the case. And again, the Plaintiff opposed the motion. The Court agreed with the Plaintiff. Finalizing a settlement agreement and transferring the disputed property would not require much time from the law firm. The Court did note that the conduct of Mr. Grace did appear to have caused additional work for his lawyers. So, if the remaining work became too much, the Court agreed it would re-hear the motion to withdraw. The Court noted that the Plaintiff had filed a motion seeking sanctions due to conduct of Mr. Grace. The Court seemed to be signaling its willingness to release the law firm if Mr. Grace mis-behaved.

That is the different between state and federal court. Bad behavior will have consequences much sooner in federal court. Another lesson appears in this decision, playing nice counts in lawsuits.


I wish I had a dollar for everytime this has happened here in San Antonio or especially across the country. A person came to see me who did not receive his "right-to-sue letter" from the EEOC. It was sent four months ago, but he just now found out about it. He contacted the EEOC to get a status report and learned of his right-to-sue letter. Across the country, this happens many times, perhaps dozens, each year. It has been a problem ever since some time in the 1970’s when the EEOC stopped sending right-to-sue letters certified. Many folks, terminated from their job, must move to cheaper living arrangements or, perhaps to a new job. The employee may forget to notify the EEOC about an address change. Or, the EEOC may lose track of the address change. 

Invariably, the Charging Party (the employee filing the complaint) responds to this problem by going to the EEOC and asking them to rescind the first RTS letter and issue a new one. Most regional offices refuse to do so. They point to their log which says they mailed the letter. The EEOC offers no solution. The employee is stuck.

A right-to-sue letter refers to the Dismissal and Notice of Rights. The EEOC sends these right-to-sue letters at the conclusion of its supposed investigation. The Notice notifies the Charging Party that s/he must file their lawsuit within 90 days. See EEOC explanation of the lawsuit process.  If you miss the 90 days, your rights to file suit in federal court are waived forever.  

There may be ways around the missing right-to-sue letter. That is, there may be other causes of action available for certain types of discrimination.  But, discrimination cases are difficult enough without having statute of limitation (deadline to file suit) issues floating around.  

 In a recent decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found in favor of an employee (plaintiff).  EEOC v. Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LLP.  For the 5th Circuit to find for a plaintiff employee is very rare. For example, in a study completed a few years ago, the researchers, found that discrimination case plaintiffs were the second least likely to survive on appeal in federal courts.  The only plaintiffs who fared worse are prisoner cases, notoriously weak claims. 

In discrimination cases on federal appeal, plaintiff employees win 5.8%.  Other plaintiffs win 12% of the time.  When you compare plaintiff employees to defendant employers, plaintiffs win 4.65% while defendants win 53.85% of the time.  The federal courts of appeals are tough on employees, the 5th Circuit is even tougher.  The 5th Circuit covers Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.  

So, the Chevron decision is all the more remarkable.  The 5th Circuit found sleeping to be a major life activity.  The employee suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for 7 months, long enough to qualify as a disability under the older version of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The fact that Plaintiff said she could work during her outbreak of CFS did not mean she did not suffer from a disability, wrote the court.  

A welcome win, but one all too rare…..