Institute Symposium: Recap of Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin’s Keynote Address

By Rebecca Hamburg posted 05-14-2012 01:21 PM


This post recaps the keynote address from The Institute's Symposium ("Trial By Jury Or Trial By Motion?: Summary Judgment, Iqbal And Employment Discrimination") at New York Law School on April 23, 2012. Read about the previous panels: here, here and here.Tomorrow we’ll wrap things up with the closing panel!

Former NELA member and current Second Circuit Judge Denny Chin provided attendees with his perspectives on summary judgment gleaned from his rare combination of experiences as a plaintiffs’ employment lawyer, federal district court judge and now circuit court judge. A video of Judge Chin’s address may be viewed here.

Judge Chin acknowledged that employment cases are often extremely complex, and require the litigants and courts to expend a significant amount of resources to resolve. However, the fact that certain types of cases are difficult does not mean that they should be treated with less care by the court.  Judge Chin rejected the notion that the federal courts are driving employment cases to state courts, emphasizing that employment cases are an important part of the federal docket and the federal courts value their jurisdiction over federal anti-discrimination laws.

Judge Chin noted, however, that “judicial experience and common sense” may include a level of increased skepticism about discrimination in the workplace. Judge Chin suggested that even if intentional discrimination has become “less plausible” to some judges, it still exists, and vigorous enforcement of our civil rights laws remains important. Nonetheless, he viewed summary judgment as an important, useful tool for judges. Judge Chin noted that he believes summary judgment is constitutional, contrary to the views expressed in an earlier paper by Professor Suja A. Thomas (Illinois), and responded that summary judgment was a more efficient means to dispose of frivolous cases than allowing them to proceed to trial, appearing to echo a sentiment expressed by other judges who spoke at the program that too many unrepresented and underrepresented litigants appear in employment cases.

Judge Chin agreed with earlier statements that the use of pre-summary judgment conferences can make the process more efficient. Judge Chin lamented that too many advocates fail to focus adequately on the issue of intent. He pointed out that the way in which judicial interpretation of the familiar framework established by McDonnell Douglas v. Green has changed over the years has not helped: it has gone from a four-part test to a seven-part one, where the pretext inquiry bounces back and forth between the plaintiff and defendant like a ping-pong ball. Judge Chin suggested that litigants focus on the issue of pretext, and that judges should help them do so by spending less time on the prima facie case. Judge Chin asks advocates to help the judge, by telling a compelling, passionate, but above all, logical story. To achieve this, he suggested that plaintiffs open their briefs with a strong, specific statement about their theory of the case, rather than a rote, uninteresting introduction of the claim being pursued and the parties.

The attendees were grateful to Judge Chin for his insights and his candor, and will no doubt remember his words the next time they find themselves standing before a court of appeals. 

#SummaryJudgment #ContinuingLegalEducation #TheInstitute #IqbalTwombly