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Minneapolis Convention Center.

, Courtesy PDI World Group

Judge dismisses Mpls. Convention Center bias lawsuit

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • December 13, 2012 - 11:02 PM

With sharp words for the attorney who brought the case, a federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit alleging a pervasive pattern of racial and age bias against employees at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery ordered Wednesday the dismissal of the 2010 lawsuit filed on behalf of six convention center employees, five of whom had been previously fired. They alleged a pattern of bias in hiring, promotion and work assignments at the center. Five are black and one is Indian. Two are disabled.

Montgomery wrote that the plaintiffs likely will be disheartened by the dismissal and she wasn't trying to diminish their experiences.

But after making a thorough review of their documents, Montgomery wrote, "it is not for the Court, as a neutral arbiter, to assemble Plaintiff's claims for them," but rather the job of their lawyer, Christopher R. Walsh.

Walsh rejected the criticism, describing himself as a "brilliant attorney" with 20 years' experience in employment law. "Judges in America, they don't want to have a trial in court anymore. They want a paper case," he said.

City Attorney Susan Segal said Thursday: "It is clear the court carefully weighed all of the evidence and concluded that the plaintiffs' claims did not make out a case of discrimination."

Lead plaintiff Ronald Benford learned of the dismissal from a reporter. "Wow," he said. "I'm kind of shocked on that one. Hopefully the attorney will appeal this. I don't feel that is right."

Montgomery's ruling described multiple problems with Walsh's handling of the case: He broke federal and local district rules of procedure. He only properly served his charges against the city when dismissal was threatened. A motion for summary judgment was "rife with incomplete sentences and blank citations." Evidence was often anecdotal. Arguments weren't linked to evidence. Walsh was months late in responding to discovery requests and then did so with partial answers. He was late in disclosing expert witnesses. He failed to attend a pretrial conference.

At one point, Montgomery wrote, the court advised Walsh to review the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct.

Montgomery wrote that she tried to locate relevant portions of the record but "the task of sifting through several thousand pages of documents to support Plaintiff's claims is not the Court's function. The Court will not advocate for Plaintiffs by mustering the evidence and making arguments when their counsel has neglected to do so."

Walsh said, "I take her criticisms personally. I strongly disagree with them. I think they have nothing to do with justice in this case. I think they have nothing to do with her duty." He said he'll appeal and may seek to vacate the judgment. Walsh said the U.S. Department of Labor is still investigating claims of convention center discrimination.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib

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