NEWARK, N.J.—A New Jersey plaintiffs' attorney is fighting a federal magistrate's ruling disqualifying him from representing 11 Goodyear employees in a racial discrimination case. U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Hedges issued a ruling in February disqualifying Glenn Bergenfield of Princeton, N.J., from the $124 million case, alleging that he violated the state's ethics rules.
Mr. Bergenfield contacted Lawrence Guffey, a supervisor at Goodyear's North Brunswick, N.J., tire warehouse, in September 1998, seeking evidence corroborating his clients' claims of abusive treatment toward black employees at the site.
However, Judge Hedges found that, before calling Mr. Guffey, Mr. Bergenfield did not make a diligent effort to find out if Mr. Guffey was represented by counsel or was part of Goodyear's ``litigation control group''—company employees whose involvement in the case is "greater, and other than, the supplying of factual information or data respecting the matter."
This was a prima facie violation of ethics rules established in a decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1996, he ruled.
Although Mr. Guffey was never part of the litigation control group, and was not contacted by Goodyear's attorneys until after Mr. Bergenfield called him, Mr. Bergenfield erred in not determining this before placing the call, Judge Hedges ruled.
Mr. Bergenfield appealed to U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Politan, and a hearing is scheduled for April 12. Marilyn Sneirson, a Newark, N.J., attorney representing Goodyear, said the company ``is confident the magistrate's ruling will stand.''
Mr. Bergenfield filed the discrimination case last June on behalf of the 11 North Brunswick workers. The plaintiffs allege they were ``subjected to a racially hostile work environment with no prompt, effective action by defendant Goodyear's supervision and management staffs to cause such behavior to stop.'' They also claim they were systematically passed over for promotions, although they were entitled to promotions by their work records and seniority.
Goodyear, in its counterclaims, said the plaintiffs lied about workplace practices at the warehouse and defamed the company, causing its reputation and business to suffer.