Martinez Trial Set for March 2015

Former Pomona College theater professor Alma Martinez’s employment discrimination lawsuit against the college will go to trial on March 25, 2015 unless the two parties find another way to end the dispute, lawyers on both sides agreed at a public conference Monday, April 7.  

Although the scheduled trial is almost a year away, the lawyers are already involved in what may become a long, contentious process of gathering evidence for the case. Court records show that each side has tried to obtain documents that the other side wants to keep out of the trial record.

Lawyers for Martinez, who claims that Pomona denied her tenure last year because she is a woman and a Mexican immigrant, have sought historical tenure data from Pomona. According to a joint statement by the parties’ lawyers, Pomona objected to this demand, and the sides were still “meeting and conferring” about it as of March 21.

Marylou Ferry, vice president and chief communications officer at Pomona, wrote in an email to TSL that the college has produced “a significant amount of documents” requested by Martinez’s lawyers. She declined to comment on whether the college has turned over any historical tenure data. 

“Since the discovery phase is ongoing, the College is still continuing to collect and review requested information and documents and to turn them over as appropriate, so it is premature to say what information has or will be turned over in response to requests,” she wrote. 

Meanwhile, Pomona’s attorneys at the law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer have subpoenaed the University of California, Santa Cruz for employment records on Martinez, who was a tenured professor at the university from 2001 to 2007. Martinez’s lawyers, who work for the nonprofit Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, have asked California Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige to quash the subpoena, arguing that revealing the old employment records would unnecessarily violate Martinez’s right to privacy.

In their motion opposing the subpoena, Martinez’s lawyers, Victor Viramontes and Matthew Barragan, wrote that Martinez worked for Pomona “continually” between 2006 and 2013.

“Consequently, Defendant already has an extensive employment profile in its possession, which is more than sufficient to defend itself in this suit,” they added.

Ferry, however, wrote in her email that seeking records from previous employers “is a normal step in employment cases.”

Hiroshige is the second judge assigned to handle Martinez’s case. The lawsuit was originally set to be heard by Judge Barbara Ann Meiers, but Martinez’s attorneys had the case reassigned under a California rule that allows litigants to have a judge disqualified without showing a reason. 

Hiroshige was not present at the five-minute conference on Monday, which was held in his courtroom at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

The court official who presided over the conference encouraged the lawyers to consider alternative dispute resolution instead of bringing the case to trial. Last month’s joint statement indicated that Martinez would be willing to participate in a mediation process.

Ferry wrote that the college has not ruled out resolving the case without a trial. 

“While we are vigorously asserting that the College acted without bias, that position does not preclude being open to various forms of alternative dispute resolution,” she wrote.

The court official initially proposed Feb. 25, 2015 as a trial date, but the attorneys persuaded him at the conference to push the date back by a month, arguing that both sides expect a complicated discovery phase.

Anthony Bald contributed reporting for this article. 

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