Palmer v. Pioneer - Winter Street Law Group

This office is proud to have participated in the landmark decision of Palmer v. Pioneer, in which we established a new law within the 9th Circuit, which is made up of nine states (including Nevada), so that attorneys can talk to people associated with a corporation involved in a lawsuit without having the attorney for that corporation present as long as the employee does not have speaking authority and cannot bind the corporation.



Dena Palmer applied for and was hired to work for Pioneer Inn Associates, but prior to starting was told that her hiring had been revoked because she was pregnant. Ms. Palmer filed an unlawful termination action in the United States District Court in Nevada against the restaurant corporation for pregnancy discrimination. The District Court ruled in favor of Pioneer Inn and Ms. Palmer appealed.



This employment discrimination case, brought by this office on behalf of Dena Palmer against her prospective employer, Pioneer Inn Associates involved the intersection of both legal evidentiary issues as well as attorney ethics issues. Following the answer to a certified question by the Nevada Supreme Court, on appeal the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that: (1) Ms. Palmer’s testimony that the supervisor had told her that his superior had nixed hires on pregnancy grounds was an issue of fact; (2) Ms. Palmer’s attorney was not prohibited from communicating with the chef who corroborated Ms. Palmer’s allegations that she was initially hired, because the chef could not bind corporation; and (3) the District Court made a mistake in excluding the chef’s affidavit and that was prejudicial to Ms. Palmer. The Ninth Circuit Court then reversed the District Court’s decision and sent it back to the District Court for a new trial.



The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the District Court erred in granting judgment in favor of Pioneer Inn with respect to the positions Ms. Palmer was hired for. The appeals Court also decided Ms. Palmer had presented sufficient direct evidence of the pregnancy discrimination to bar summary judgment in favor of Pioneer Inn and held that issue should have proceeded to trial.

Further, the Ninth Circuit Court held that, in light of the Nevada Supreme Court’s decision on the scope of the prohibition of contact between an attorney for a party litigating against a company and that company’s employees, the District Court made a mistake and should not have sanctioned Ms. Palmer’s attorney and should not have excluded the Chef’s Affidavit or excluded his testimony. Ultimately, it was the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Ms. Palmer was entitled to a new trial with respect to the positions she was hired for that was later revoked based on her pregnancy.


Read the opinion here.

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