Saturday, December 31, 2005

Facts? Who Needs 'Em?

Not the "tort reformers", apparently....

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein relates something he read on Overlawyered, about two secretaries who settled a sexual harassment case for $450,000.00. Bernstein comments, "the complainant's in the 'Ride Them Hard' case won a settlement, apparently largely because the school district's lawyer was thought to have mishandled the investigation, and the distict was afraid this would make them look bad before a jury.... Regardless, this might just win my vote for the most ridiculous case of the year." Elsewhere on the Internet the settlement is declared the "Outrageous lawsuit story of the year."

The news accounts which inspire all of this horror relate,
The two secretaries' claims came from a comment Assistant Superintendent Thomas J. Kirschling made to them and two others in July 2002. At some point mid-month, Kirschling said "I ride them hard and put them away wet."

The two secretaries sent him a memo saying they were outraged. He later explained and apologized, according to a subsequent memo.

Kirschling was apparently using a rural idiom that means someone is tired or worked hard. The phrase is taken from the need to cool down a horse after strenuous exercise. Only a mistreated horse is stabled while it is still sweating.

After the women complained, the district assigned an outside attorney to investigate, but that probe inadvertently lapsed.

After the suit was filed, school officials said Grosskreutz recommended settling the claims and updating the district's sexual harassment policies. The district is reviewing its sexual harassment policies.

That is, the coverage is very sympathetic to the school district and defendant, and relates their version of events qualified only by the word "apparently". Another news story relates,
At the time of the complaints, district Superintendent Fredrick Nickles said the district's affirmative action office would look into the remarks.

After the initial 2002 report, the district hired an outside attorney to research the remark, Davis said, because they wanted the investigation into a top staffer to be without taint.

However, the attorney they hired apparently did not do the work, Davis said.

"Something developed, something personal with the legal representative, and it was never reported back to the (district) administrators," Davis said. The investigation "kind of just fell through the cracks, and that later on created problems for the district because it looked like we didn't show any concern for the issue of the harassment."
Okay, so what's wrong with this picture. The School Board supposedly conducted its own internal investigation through its Affirmative Action Office, and also contracted for an independent investigation through outside counsel. When an undefined problem with the outside attorney developed, no new attorney was brought into the case.

These are the facts deemed so outrageous by the school board and its insurance carrier that they opted to settle for $450,000.00? Why am I thinking that there is a lot more to this story.

It appears that Overlawyered seeks to "objectively" relate summaries of news coverage, thereby disclaiming any responsibility for error, omission or misrepresentation that finds its way into their content by virtue of their failure to engage in any analysis or fact-checking. Given their agenda, perhaps their preference for stenography should not be surprising. But it makes me wonder why anybody takes them seriously.


  1. Because it says what people want to hear: everyone else's lawsuits are frivolous.

  2. I always thought the expression "rode hard and put up wet" was a reference to saddles, not to horses.

  3. Within the context of the story, I guess the question is whether the reference is to Secretariat or his saddle....

  4. In the Kentucky environment where Janice grew up, the phrase, applied to people, means "prematurely aged due to stress and abuse".

    But the thing sounds very strange when rendered in standard English.

  5. Reminds me of the McDonalds coffee case. The real facts in that case were bad enough you had to wonder what the heck the defense thought they were going to prove by going to trial. In this case, I have to wonder what other incidents might have come into play such that the board chose not to take a chance. Given it was a settlement, we'll probably never know.


    Hello from St. Clair County, Aaron.

  6. Hi Tim. (I can run, but I can't hide. ;-)

  7. From the same news story:

    Board member John Dollard was the lone board member who voted against paying the claim.

    "It was stupid," he said. "It was a victim of the times and it shouldn't have been done. But also since it was the opinion of the board, we will go along with it." It was a bad idea, he said, "that you're going to give away a ton of money just because a bunch of lawyers in a room want to get paid."

    I still don't see any indication that Walter reported anything inaccurately or that the settlement wasn't pure extortion for a meritless claim. Aaron's post sure isn't persuasive that there was merit to the case.

  8. And along comes Ted to personify the problem. "Walter summarized the article, so what's the problem?" The problem, Ted - as you obviously know - is that if you were at all interested in the facts of the case, whether any "overlawyering occurred" or whether the settlement was in fact excessive, you would want to look deeper than the article.

    There are lots of things within the article which would make anybody half as smart as you or Walter realize that there is more to the story. You don't care that there is more to the story, because what you post advances your preferred line of propaganda? Then color me unimpressed.

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