Dreams of arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court usually start before law school. They usually end up unfulfilled, because the high court grants review to a small fraction of the thousands of petitions for writs of certiorari it receives every year. On Friday, Jan. 18, Dallas lawyer Brian Lauten (pictured) found out his dream would become a reality for him when the high court granted review in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Naiel Nassar.
But the news came to Lauten on the most bittersweet day possible: He was in Mobile, Ala., eulogizing his grandfather, William Lauten, a 50-year lawyer who in the 1960s argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Lauten says the eulogy even included an anecdote about his grandfather’s high court appearance: William Lauten’s father traveled all night by train to Washington, D.C., and surprised his son that morning to see him argue before the nation’s highest court.
Three hours after Brian Lauten gave the eulogy, he found out that the high court had granted cert in Nassar. “He died last week. I wish he’d been around to see this,” Lauten says of his grandfather.
While Lauten says he is excited at the prospect of arguing in front of the United States’ most important court, he wishes the case going up to the justices wasn’t Nassar — a Title VII employment discrimination case Lauten won at trial in 2010, along with substantial attorney fees. A jury found that the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) constructively discharged Nassar from his faculty position because of racially motivated harassment by a superior and that UTSW had retaliated against him. UTSW appealed the verdict to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 5th Circuit partially reversed on March 8, 2012, upholding the retaliation verdict but reversing on the constructive-discharge issue, after finding there was not sufficient evidence to prove that claim. UTSW, which denied the allegations at trial, successfully appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Daryl Joseffer, a partner in the Washington D.C. office of King & Spalding who represents UTSW, did not return a call for comment.
“Obviously, it would have been more advantageous if they had denied cert. However we look forward to extensively briefing the issue and being able to respond to UT Southwestern’s argument,” says Lauten, a partner in Sawicki & Lauten.
--- John Council