Justice Lost In ‘Ms.’ Flap, Plaintiff Says
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Two plaintiffs who lost a race discrimination lawsuit said Friday a federal judge’s refusal to let their attorney use ″Ms.″ or her maiden name in court generated a furor that turned their trial into a sideshow.
″This was a race discrimination lawsuit. But it got lost in the shuffle. Somewhere along the line, justice was not served here,″ said Charles Gavin, one of two plaintiffs.
Gavin, 43, of Donora, and William Sutton, 33, of Washington, who are black, claimed PPG Industries Inc. fostered and condoned racial harassment at the company’s automotive windshield plant in nearby Greensburg.
Following a three-week trial before Senior U.S. District Judge Hubert Teitelbaum, a jury cleared PPG.
The verdict came hours after Teitelbaum apologized to Gavin’s attorney, Barbara Wolvovitz, and offered to grant a mistrial following a flurry of headlines about his threats to jail Ms. Wolvovitz for not using her husband’s name.
Gavin said the apology and offer for a mistrial, which Ms. Wolvovitz turned down, was too little too late.
″I don’t know where to turn now. I want to appeal, and I want justice ... but I just don’t have the money,″ he said. ″It almost cost me 10 grand to go this far. As far as a mistrial, what am I going to do about that? The transcript alone will cost $6,000.″
Gavin said Teitelbaum’s behavior ″politicized that jury. He alienated the jury from us. These people perceived us and our lawyers as being radical.″
″I thought they were on our side until this guy started performing,″ Sutton said. ″I think the comments he made were unprofessional, and I think he prejudiced the jury by doing it.″
The judge interrupted testimony July 8 to scold Ms. Wolvovitz and threaten that she would ″sleep in the county jail″ if she refused to be called Mrs. Lobel, her husband’s last name, in court.
The judge found her co-counsel, Jon Pushinsky, in contempt for coming to her defense. He also polled the female jurors on their preferences in courtesy titles.
Ms. Wolvovitz on Monday asked for a mistrial, which the judge denied, and when she again resisted his order to change her name he asked: ″What if I call you sweetie?″
″He started out with this ‘sweetie’ stuff and then it escalated,″ Gavin said. ″He even patted her on her head. At one point he put his hand around her waist. ... ″Even about my wife, he said, ’You have a beautiful wife, don’t you agree?‴
Neither Ms. Wolvovitz nor Pushinski would confirm or deny their clients’ claims.
″The record speaks for itself,″ Pushinski said.
″It’s difficult to remember everything that took place in a 3 1/2 -week trial,″ Ms. Wolvovitz said.
Teitelbaum was not in his office Friday and could not be reached for comment.
The judge’s law clerk, JoAnn Dempler, said Teitelbaum is often informal in court, making jokes and small talk to reduce tension.
But Gavin said the judge’s actions on July 8 went beyond that.
″The judge was screaming. He was shouting. He pointed at all these women and screamed at them ‘What’s your name?’ When that man screamed and shouted I said ’Oh my God, what’s this guy doing? He’s tampering with the jury.‴
Gavin said Ms. Wolvovitz was so shaken she sobbed while cross-examining a witness, and that he in turn began to weep.
″This man didn’t apologize to Sutton and me,″ he said. ″Where’s the apology to us? He had me crying.″