WASHINGTON - The District of Columbia Court of Appeals may have reopened a long-running sexual harassment lawsuit against the former president of the Flexible Packaging Association, tossing out an earlier court decision in favor of FPA.
The full nine-member Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., on June 11 threw out the opinion of a three-judge panel in the case. The three judges, in a 2-1 vote, had ruled in January that the FPA did not have to pay a nearly $1 million verdict to former employee Gaye Lively. The two judges in the majority said Lively did not bring her case before the statute of limitations had expired.
FPA President Marla Donahue declined to comment. The case involves FPA's previous president, Glenn Braswell. FPA is in Linthicum, Md., but was located in Washington when the case was filed.
The Appeals Court's decision to toss out the opinion of its panel and hear the case before its full nine members is very unusual, said Lawrence Eiser, Lively's Silver Spring, Md.-based lawyer.
The decision does not indicate which way the court is leaning, or why it wants to rehear it. The full court could simply reinstate the opinion of the three-judge panel, or it could rule completely differently.
Eiser said the full court has never agreed to such a hearing on a case involving the Washington, D.C., Human Rights Act, and the case could set a precedent for employment law in Washington.
``There is a clear likelihood that this case will have serious impact on the future of civil rights litigation in the District of Columbia — hopefully in the direction of securing protections for victims of gender discrimination in employment,'' he said.
He said the January opinion that tossed out the case had been widely cited in other cases by lawyers for companies facing lawsuits ``because, taken as a whole, it dooms almost all claims of hostile work environment, unequal pay, and retaliation to summary judgment against the plaintiff.''
The FPA case dates back nearly a decade. A jury in 1996 awarded Lively almost $1 million, after she argued that Braswell made demeaning comments to her and other women, and retaliated against those who complained. Braswell left FPA in 1999.
But the trial judge tossed out the jury's verdict. The next court decision came in January when the three-judge panel of the Appeals Court ruled in favor of FPA.