U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth tossed a gender discrimination suit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on Friday, saying the plaintiff and her attorney repeatedly disobeyed orders to not introduce prejudicial information during trial.
In an order, Lamberth, chief judge of the federal trial court in D.C., wrote that he was “dumbfounded” when the plaintiff, former WMATA employee Niamke Keys, testified before a jury about information the court had ruled was inadmissible. Also in the order, he accused Keys’ attorney, Robert L. Bell, of “acting in bad faith” by failing to advise Keys to follow the court’s orders and, on at least one occasion, introducing inadmissible testimony himself.
“The Court will not tolerate such flaunting of its orders,” Lamberth wrote in the order; he did not recommend any disciplinary action, however.
Keys filed suit against WMATA in 2001, claiming she was harassed by her co-workers and superiors and denied opportunities for promotion because of her gender and race. She sought damages of at least $6 million.
During the next decade, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon – who oversaw the case until it was reassigned to Lamberth in November – ruled that the findings of an internal investigation by WMATA’s Office of Civil Rights into the allegations were inadmissible, as was testimony from Keys on allegations of harassment outside the scope of her complaint.
But when Keys testified last week, she told the jury about the internal investigation, according to the order, prompting Lamberth to instruct the jury to disregard the comments – in the hopes of avoiding a mistrial – and warning Bell and Keys about complying with previous court orders. When Keys later testified about allegations of assault not included in her claim, Lamberth declared a mistrial and dismissed the suit.
Bell, a solo practitioner in Washington, D.C., said in a phone interview Tuesday that he “followed the rules consistently” and plans to appeal the dismissal. He declined to comment further on Lamberth’s decision.
WMATA was represented by in-house attorneys Janice Lynn Cole and Kathleen Ann Carey.
“WMATA’s Office of General Counsel is aggressive in filing motions in limine in order to exclude improper evidence. Our attorneys are grateful that the judges in this case saw fit to enter the orders and then to enforce them,” Farbstein said in an e-mail.