National Sex Discrimination Case

The Story:

The investigator on this case was Joanne Parrent. The potential defendant was an organization located in a Southern state that had been in the news frequently in 2002 and 2003 because of criticism by women's organizations over its discriminatory practices. Since the Southern state where the organization was located had no public accommodations law, a sex discrimination lawsuit would have to be filed in federal court under the 14th Amendment and, for that, evidence of state action was needed. Joanne's task was to find out everything she could about the relationship between any government entities and the organization.

The first step was for Joanne to find a sympathetic well-connected contact in the area. Through one of the attorneys she was working for, Joanne was put in touch with two local attorneys. One of them ("Chris") ended up being essential to the investigation. Chris and Joanne decided that she would be able to gain more cooperation from local people if she said she was a journalist writing a story on the organization and the community, rather than if she said she was a private investigator working for California (read "Yankee") attorneys. Since Joanne's background is as a freelance journalist and writer and she still occasionally writes articles for magazines, that particular "pretext" was perfect for her.

Joanne began with research on real estate records and in the archives of the local newspaper. She continued with interviews with many different county officials, as well as other prominent members of the community that Chris or others suggested. She was able to uncover little known information about the organization's lucrative "sweetheart" deal with the county, in which the county water district provided the organization with millions of gallons of water for only a few dollars a year.

A second bit of information Joanne discovered - information that was also "hidden in plain sight" - was the fact that the brother of a prominent local member of the organization was a supervisor on the county board of supervisors. This county supervisor had been instrumental in aiding the organization's interests through a recent ordinance he introduced and supported.

In a few days, Joanne gathered exhaustive information on the workings of the county where the discriminating organization was located and the organization, providing a complete picture for our client of the relationship between the two. Several other examples of the symbiotic relationship between the discriminating organization and the county were also discovered, most of which involved various types of county support for a national event the organization sponsored each year.

Although the evidence provided by our investigation for the complaint was strong, after weighing all of the legal factors, including the likely attitude toward the case of the local federal district judge, the attorneys in this case decided not to go forward with litigation.

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