Appeals Court Rejects Dismissal in Strip Club Race-Bias Lawsuit Due to Lawyer’s Absence
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In a recent ruling, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision to dismiss a race-bias lawsuit against a Birmingham strip club, emphasizing that the lawyer’s failure to appear for court proceedings did not warrant such a severe penalty. The unanimous three-judge panel expressed that while attorney Kira Fonteneau of Barrett & Farahany in Birmingham, Alabama, may be subject to sanctions, the extreme measure of dismissing the case was unwarranted.

Background: Hubbard Alleges Discrimination Against “Too Many Black Girls”

Briona Hubbard, the plaintiff in the case, alleges that she faced racial discrimination when the “house mom” managing The Furnace, a Birmingham strip club operated by Best in Town, refused to hire her, citing an excess of “Black girls” on staff. Hubbard filed the lawsuit in 2022, accusing Best in Town of violating federal laws prohibiting race discrimination.


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Courtroom Absences Lead to Dismissal Threat

The pivotal moment in the case occurred in June 2023 when both Fonteneau and W. Henry McGowen, the lawyer representing Best in Town, failed to participate in a scheduled telephone conference with the judge. Additionally, they were absent for an in-person conference just two days later. In a joint filing preceding these events, the attorneys had indicated their efforts to negotiate a settlement for Hubbard’s claims.

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Dismissal by U.S. District Judge Raises Controversy

U.S. District Judge Annemarie Carney Axon took a stern stance, dismissing the case as a sanction for failing to prosecute and adhere to court orders. Fonteneau later apologized, attributing the oversight to temporary support staff at her firm who failed to document electronic notices from the court properly. However, Judge Carney Axon rejected Fonteneau’s plea to reopen the case.

Appeals Court Reversal: Mistake Not Grounds for Dismissal

The 11th Circuit, in its recent reversal, deemed Fonteneau’s mistake insufficient to justify dismissing the case. The panel of Circuit Judges Charles Wilson, Robin Rosenbaum, and Britt Grant emphasized that while they acknowledged the district court’s concerns, there was no clear pattern of delay or willful misconduct on Fonteneau’s part.

“We understand the district court’s concerns and do not foreclose the potential availability of other lesser sanctions,” the court stated in an unsigned decision.

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Conclusion: Case Continues Amidst Legal Scrutiny

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling allows Briona Hubbard’s race-bias lawsuit against Best in Town to proceed, highlighting the significance of fair legal proceedings even when faced with attorney oversights. The decision opens the door for potential lesser sanctions while underscoring the importance of maintaining due process in cases of alleged discrimination.

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