Joan B. Gottschall
Joan B. Gottschall

A company sued by a former employee engaged in tactics designed to gain an unfair advantage in the litigation, a federal judge has held.

In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall concluded that the company that operates the Joliet Job Corps Center delayed asking to arbitrate Mo’nique Smith’s sex discrimination claims in the hope of getting favorable court rulings.

The company tried to obtain an additional edge in court, Gottschall continued, by twice seeking to have one of Smith's lawyers removed from the case.

These litigation activities indicate that Adams & Associates LLC waived its right to enforce the arbitration clause in its employment agreement with Smith, Gottschall wrote.

“Adams & Associates must accordingly continue on the path it has chosen,” she wrote, “and remain in federal court to defend against Smith's claims.”

Gottschall set a status hearing in the case for Oct. 30.

Smith’s lawyers — Michael K. Goldberg of Goldberg Law Group LLC and Sivonnia L. DeBarros of SL DeBarros Law Firm LLC — said they are pleased with Gottschall’s ruling.

“They definitely waived their right to arbitrate,” DeBarros said.

It would not be fair, she said, to allow any party to “totally dismantle” a case after it has been in court for nearly a year.

Goldberg said he is pleased Gottschall rejected the bid to have him tossed from the case.

“It’s important for indigent parties to be able to have the attorney of their choice,” he said. “It’s a valuable right that makes the system work.”

The lead attorney for Adams & Associates is Kerryann M. Haase Minton of Michael, Best & Friedrich LLP. She could not be reached for comment.

Adams & Associates contracts with the U.S. Labor Department to operate centers for the Job Corps, an educational and vocational-training program. Adams & Associates is based in Reno, Nev.

Smith worked at the Joliet Job Corps Center for two years.

She alleges she was sexually harassed on the job and was denied assignments and promotions because she is a woman.

She was fired last year in retaliation for complaining about the harassment and discrimination, Smith alleges.

Acting as her own attorney, Smith sued Adams & Associates and its chief operating officer, Roy Adams, in federal court.

Gottschall later determined that Smith is indigent and recruited Goldberg to represent her.

Goldberg then filed an amended complaint dropping Adams as a defendant.

Two months later, DeBarros entered an appearance in the case.

DeBarros represents Smith on a contingency basis in a tort suit in state court stemming from her firing.

Because DeBarros is not a member of the federal trial bar, she asked to work with Goldberg in the federal case rather than replace him.

Adams & Associates objected to allowing Smith to be represented by both attorneys.

It twice asked that Goldberg, as recruited counsel, be removed from the case. Gottschall denied both requests.

Eleven months after Smith filed her federal suit, Adams & Associates filed its motion to compel arbitration.

In her opinion, Gottschall conceded that federal policy favors enforcing arbitration agreements.

But a party to such an agreement can waive the right to arbitrate through its actions, she wrote.

In addition to trying to toss Goldberg from the case, Gottschall wrote, Adams & Associates consented to a cut-off date for discovery and served Smith with written interrogatories and a request to produce.

These actions “are inconsistent with a desire to obtain the earliest feasible determination of whether Smith’s claims must be arbitrated,” she wrote.

Gottschall issued her opinion Friday in Mo'nique Smith v. Adams & Associates LLC, No. 14 C 5522.