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Case Dismissed: Perjured Plaintiff Loses Racial Harassment Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on December 08, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We don't practice employment law, so we won't presume to tell you how to practice employment law. What we can tell you is how to annoy - or avoid annoying - judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals when filing a harassment lawsuit. While this niche competency doesn't translate well to a social-networking profile or a resume, it could save you, and your client, unnecessary drama in the courtroom.

Today's lesson: consistency.

If you file a harassment lawsuit for a client, claiming he left his job solely based on racial harassment, make sure that your client didn't also file a personal injury claim against a different defendant, insisting that he left the same job due to back pain from a car accident.

Nickey Brown was employed as a contract welder for Oil States Skagit Smatco and Oil States Skagit Smatco, L.L.C. (Oil States) from March 12, 2008, until he resigned on June 11, 2008. Brown, who is African American, sued Oil States on June 16, 2009, alleging that he was compelled to leave because several of his co-workers subjected him to racial harassment and "life-threatening" conduct.

On January 5, 2010, Brown gave deposition testimony in a personal injury lawsuit related to an automobile accident that occurred in March 2008. In the deposition, he claimed that he stopped working as a contract welder for Oil States due to back pain from the car accident. He did not mention racial harassment in the deposition.

In May 2010, Brown testified in the Oil States harassment lawsuit deposition that the only reason he quit his job at Oil States was due to racial harassment. He did not mention the car accident/personal injury claim.

Oil States learned of the contradictory testimony and filed for sanctions on July 23, 2010, claiming that Brown plainly committee perjury. The district court dismissed both of Brown's claims with prejudice. Brown appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and lost.

The Fifth Circuit ruled that district court had not abused its discretion in dismissing the harassment lawsuit with prejudice because, "Brown deceitfully provided conflicting testimony in order to further his own pecuniary interests in the two lawsuits and, in doing so, undermined the integrity of the judicial process."

Want to avoid a similarly-embarrassing dismissal? Before you begin an attorney-client relationship, explain your expectations to your client. (Thou shalt not pursue recovery for a single incident - loss of job - based on conflicting theories in separate lawsuits.) If you suspect that your client is sneaking around with another lawsuit behind your back, a little due diligence can confirm or allay your suspicions.

If the court eventually finds evidence of your client's wrongdoings, you can probably avoid sanctions if you demonstrate that you had no reason to know about your client's nefarious deeds.

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