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Incorrect jury instructions lead to new bias case trial

Incorrect jury instructions lead to new bias case trial

A federal appeals court has ordered a new trial for two lesbians who had lost their gender and sexual orientation discrimination case at trial on the basis the court had given the jury incorrect instructions.

Rachel Price and Tessa Gerhard had charged they were denied promotions in 2011 and 2012 by their employer, Houston-based Equilon Enterprises L.L.C., a unit of Shell Oil Co., because of their gender and sexual orientation, according to Thursday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Rachel A. Price, an individual, and Tessa v. Gerhardt, an individual v. Shell Oil Co. et al.

After a jury returned a verdict in June, 2014 for the defense the U.S. District Court in Seattle entered judgment in Equilon’s favor and the plaintiffs appealed.

Over plaintiff’s objection, the District Court had given instruction to the jury concerning Equion’s liability under Washington law that said in part, “If you find that those employees were not acting within the scope of authority as Equlon Enterprise’s (sic) agent, then you must find for Equilon Enterprises L.L.C.”

This “was an incorrect statement of Washington employment law,” said the unanimous ruling by a three-judge appellate panel. “The jury was not required to find for Equilon if it found that discriminatory statements were made or discriminatory actions were undertaken by employees not authorized to engage in the promotion decisions.

“Rather, the jury could consider those matters, together with other evidence, to determine whether discrimination was a substantial factor in the adverse employment decisions,” said the panel, in vacating the court’s judgment and remanding the case for a new trial.

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