Michael Rankin. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ)
Update: Judge Michael Rankin granted the motion to disqualify and recused from the case on July 10. He did not explain his decision in the order.
Lawyers for a woman suing Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. for gender discrimination have asked the judge to step down, citing his son’s ties to the company.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Michael Rankin alerted lawyers in late June that his son worked for ASE Inc., a Booz Allen subsidiary. Rankin said he didn’t think his son’s job “would prejudice or otherwise affect” his judgment. He disclosed the connection, he said, “out of an abundance of caution.”
Lawyers for plaintiff Margo Fitzpatrick want another judge. In court papers filed July 2, Fitzpatrick’s lead attorney, Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks, wrote that Rankin should recuse “to avoid the appearance of impropriety.” In a footnote, Katz said they weren’t accusing Rankin of any actual misconduct, but that there was a perception issue.
Fitzpatrick’s lawyers mined LinkedIn, a professional networking site, for information about Rankin’s son. Katz noted in her disqualification motion that Rankin’s son listed Booz Allen, and not ASE, as his employer and that at least two trial witnesses were among the son’s “connections” on the site.
Katz argued that a “reasonable person” might think that the judge had incentives to benefit his son’s employer, or that he wouldn’t want to expose his son to retaliation if he ruled against Booz Allen. It was also possible that Rankin’s son might have made comments in the past about Booz Allen to his father, she added.
Katz declined to comment.
Booz Allen and company executives who were sued individually did not consent to the recusal request, according to Katz’s filing. McGuireWoods partner Stephen Robinson, the lead attorney for the defendants, referred a request for comment to the company. A company spokesman was not immediately available.
Fitzpatrick filed her lawsuit in August 2011. She accused Booz Allen of having a “glass ceiling” that excluded women from top leadership positions within the company. She claimed one executive told her that the financial services industry was a “good ole boys club” and took steps to undermine the careers of women in executive-level positions.
According to the lawsuit, Fitzpatrick joined Booz Allen in 1999 as a senior associate and was eventually promoted to partner. She alleged she was fired in 2011 because of her gender and sexual orientation—Fitzpatrick is a lesbian—and in retaliation for raising concerns about discrimination within the company.
Booz Allen said at the time the case was filed that it would fight Fitzpatrick’s allegations. A company spokeswoman said personnel decisions were “made based on merit, not gender.”
Fitzpatrick’s case was one of three gender-discrimination lawsuits filed against Booz Allen in Washington since 2011. The company settled one of the cases in October on the eve of trial. Another, involving an in-house lawyer, is still pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Rankin took over Fitzpatrick’s case in December from another judge while the parties were still exchanging information and evidence.
Katz argued in her motion that Rankin’s recusal at this stage of litigation wouldn’t prejudice the defendants, the court or the judicial system. The judge’s involvement in discovery issues hadn’t been “substantive,” she said, and stepping down now would give another judge enough time to rule on a likely summary-judgment motion from the defendants.