A judge ruled Friday that former Mariners high performance director Lorena Martin will have to pursue a discrimination claim against the team in private arbitration rather than a lawsuit in open court. Martin alleged she was placed on leave in October — and subsequently fired — after complaining of racial and gender discrimination.
A King County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Lorena Martin must pursue her discrimination case against the Mariners in private arbitration rather than in open court.
Martin’s lawyers had brought forth a motion to quash the arbitration on grounds a new Washington state law requires cases of discrimination be heard in an open public forum. But Judge Regina Cahan ruled the new law, which came into effect in June — after Martin signed her three-year, $900,000 contract Nov. 1, 2017, to become the team’s high-performance director — did not pre-empt the clauses in her deal calling for arbitration to resolve all employment disputes.
Cahan also rejected an argument Martin was an “unsophisticated party” and didn’t know the arbitration provisions in her contract would cover any discrimination claims. She noted Martin holds advanced university degrees, taught at respected universities and even worked for the NBA Los Angeles Lakers and presumably had to sign a similar contract in doing so.
“There’s absolutely no evidence that her time was limited to negotiate the contract,” Cahan stated. “No evidence that she couldn’t go out and hire an attorney to negotiate the contract.”
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The ruling is awaiting certification and Martin will have 30 days to appeal once that occurs. Any arbitration hearings would be stayed until after an appeal is heard.
Friday’s ruling was purely to decide the appropriate venue for the proceedings and did not evaluate the merits of either side’s case.
Martin was placed on leave by the Mariners in early October, then fired in mid-November days after taking to social media with claims of gender and racial discrimination by the team, specifically naming general manager Jerry Dipoto, player development director Andy McKay and manager Scott Servais as culprits.
The Mariners filed paperwork to commence arbitration in December, but Martin declined to participate. Arbitrator Carolyn Cairns was subsequently appointed to handle the case. Martin instead that same month filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the team alleging the discrimination and later a motion asking the court to quash the arbitration process.
Martin’s lawyer, Robin Phillips, argued in court Friday that the Mariners only want arbitration so they can limit the case’s public exposure.
”The real motivation is to have a confidential arbitration,” she told the judge. “They don’t like the press. They don’t like people knowing about it.”
Cahan agreed the private arbitration won’t be the same as a lawsuit, saying: “I don’t think an arbitration can ever be as public as court.”
But she added the crux of the issue boiled down to Martin having signed a broadly outlined agreement with the team calling for arbitration to resolve employment disputes and she saw nothing in prior case law that would allow her to override that.
The Mariners contended in court that while the arbitration is less public than a courtroom, there will be nothing to prevent Martin from discussing the case or sharing documents from it.
“The bottom line is, I don’t think the waiver of a right to publicly pursue a claim is what we have here,” said Harry Schneider, a lawyer representing the team.