Keslar v. Bartu

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Concerned sexual harassment charges against a judge and the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Full Case Titile: 

Keslar v. Bartu, 81 F. Supp. 2d 960 (D. Neb. 1999), aff'd, 201 F.3d 1016 (8th Cir. 2000)
  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Workplace Equality and Economic Empowerment

Year: 

2000
  • Authored Amicus Brief

Brief: 

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum prepared an amicus brief for itself and eight other women's organizations on behalf of the attorney.

Summary of the Case

Attorney Traci Comstock successfully represented court reporter Debbie Keslar in a sexual harassment case against a judge and the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The judge had also harassed several other court employees, four of whom filed formal complaints, but over the twenty-year period of these abuses, the court system took no action. After four years of bitter litigation the case settled on the eve of trial with money damages to the plaintiff and a written commitment from the chief justice to adopt a new prompt-response anti-discrimination policy to protect all court employees. When Attorney Comstock sought to recover her attorney's fees and costs, as provided by law, the federal district court awarded her only a small fraction of them, holding that this was "only slightly more than a run-of-the-mill case;" that the policy changes secured were "minimal;" and that it took no special courage to bring a sexual harassment case against a judge and the Nebraska court system.

Summary of the Brief

The brief demonstrated that the district court, in denying Comstock's requested fee, relied on the improper factor of gender bias. The brief cited the Gender Bias Task Force findings on some judges' disdain for sexual harassment cases, the negative perception of women lawyers who engage in the zealous advocacy lauded in their male counterparts, and the severe difficulty women lawyers face in challenging a judge's gender bias and sexual harassment.

Decision

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the award in a 2-1 decision in which the dissenting judge wrote that it did take courage to bring this case and that the policy changes were significant.