Appellate Court Sends Back Discrim Ruling for Judicial Do-Over

March 12, 2008 ( - In an unusually harshly-worded opinion critical of a lower court's ruling in a gender discrimination suit filed by a deputy U.S. Marshal, a federal appellate court threw out the decision and ordered the District Court judge to start over.

The 1 st  U.S. District Court of Appeals issued the ruling in a case filed byCynthia A. DeCaire against Anthony Dichio, then the U.S.Marshal for the District of Massachusetts.DeCaire alleged in her suit that Dichio discriminated against her in his job assignments and on other issues because she was a woman and then retaliated against her when she lodged a formal complaint about the treatment. 

Circuit Judge Sandra L. Lynch, writing for the appellate court, blasted the conclusion drawn by  U.S. District Judge William G. Young of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts when he ruled against DeCaire after a non-jury trial.   Young’s opinion, Lynch charged, “seems at odds with itself and is not entirely clear.”

Although Young had found that Dichio did discriminate against DeCaire and retaliated after she complained, Young attributed the treatment to DiChio’s perception DeCaire was disloyal to him and not because he discriminated on the basis of her gender. This finding came despite Young’s determination that DeCaire was “credible in virtually every respect,” and that the credibility of Dichio was “extremely suspect.”

The appellate panel was unusually pointed in asserting Young should not have based his ruling on his perception of motives of the players in DeCaire’s case not suggested by either side. The 1 st  Circuit panel sent the case back to Young for further proceedings.   

“We have great concern over the district court’s utilization of a theory not advanced by either party to the case,” Lynch wrote in the appellate ruling. “Fairness alone requires that the parties have notice of the theories so that the parties can gear their evidence toward what is at stake. Both sides to this litigation were prejudiced by the court’s spontaneous introduction of a new theory of justification.”

Not only that, Lynch charged, but Young’s theory wasn’t backed up by trial testimony. “A theory must have a sufficient grounding in the evidence,” Lynch asserted. “Otherwise, it is merely speculation. In our view, after reviewing the facts, we are left with the conviction that the theory on which the court resolved the case is speculation not grounded in the evidence.”

The opinion of the 1 st  Circuit is here .