Lawyers for former Mariners high performance director Lorena Martin have filed notice they intend to appeal a Superior Court decision from last month compelling her to address complaints against the team through arbitration in lieu of a lawsuit.
At stake is whether Martin’s widely publicized complaints against the team will be heard in open court or behind closed doors.
Martin was fired last November after a series of social media posts accusing the Mariners of gender and racial discrimination. She had been placed on leave in October and was negotiating financial terms of her exit from the ballclub just one season into a three-year, $900,000 contract that made her the team’s highest-ranking woman in its baseball operations department.
Martin argues that she told team owners John Stanton and Buck Ferguson, CEO Kevin Mather and various human resources officials and staffers of mistreatment months before her dismissal and that the October placing on leave was retaliatory. She says the team offered her the choice of resigning for less severance than her contract called for, or participating in an internal review of her work — which she believed was a pretense to firing her.
The Mariners say an internal investigation uncovered wrongdoing, misrepresentations and poor treatment of employees by Martin and that her being placed on leave and subsequent dismissal was justified.
A month after her dismissal, Martin filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the team, claiming she was discriminated against by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, player personnel director Andy McKay and manager Scott Servais. The lawsuit seeks the remaining $600,000 owed from the final two years of her deal plus further damages and legal fees, but the Mariners contend that Martin’s contract calls for all disputes arising from it to be settled in binding arbitration and not civil litigation.
Martin’s legal team says a state law enacted last year guarantees victims of workplace discrimination the chance to be heard in open court. The Mariners successfully argued last month that her Nov. 1, 2017, contract predates the new law and that the arbitration provisions should be upheld.
Superior Court Judge Regina Cahan stated in issuing her Feb. 22 ruling that there is no legal precedent as of yet allowing her to use the new law to pre-empt the clauses in Martin’s deal. But Cahan agreed with Martin’s lawyer, Robin Phillips, that: “I don’t think an arbitration can ever be as public as court.’’
Though Martin’s legal team has yet to specify the grounds through which it will appeal the ruling — the appellate court must first agree to review the case, which isn’t automatic in arguments over the compelling of arbitration — it appears their claims will involve the need for the new law to be applied retroactively to contracts predating it. Or, that the termination, or grievance date of a contract should apply in such cases rather than the date of origin.
The law’s intent is to prevent employers from using private arbitration to cover up instances of workplace discrimination.
In court last month, lawyer Phillips argued Martin was being denied rights the new law is supposed to protect. And she accused the Mariners of trying to hide behind arbitration to avoid embarrassing details about the treatment of her client from becoming public.
“The real motivation is to have a confidential arbitration,’’ Phillips told the judge. “They don’t like the press. They don’t like people knowing about it.’’
But the Mariners’ lawyers argued that, though the media can’t attend arbitration cases as they would a lawsuit, there is nothing preventing Martin from sharing documents or making details public. “The bottom line is, I don’t think the waiver of a right to publicly pursue a claim is what we have here,’’ lawyer Harry Schneider said.