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Awolesi v. Shinseki

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 18, 2014

MARK AWOLESI, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC SHINSEKI, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant

For Mark Awolesi, MD, Plaintiff: Christina A. Agola, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brighton, NY; Ryan Charles Woodworth, Christina Agola PLLC, Brighton, NY.

For Eric Shinseki, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Defendant: Kathryn L. Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Rochester, NY.

For Gwendolyn Cole-Hoover, M.D., Movant: Anthony L. Pendergrass, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Anthony L. Pendergrass, Buffalo, NY.

Page 535

DECISION AND ORDER

ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

One month before the jury trial in the above-captioned employment discrimination lawsuit was scheduled to commence, Plaintiff's counsel Ryan Charles Woodworth filed a motion to withdraw, contending that his client, Plaintiff Mark Awolesi, M.D. (" Plaintiff" ), had fired him. (Dkt. 63). Faced with sworn affidavits from both Mr. Woodworth and Plaintiff indicating that the attorney-client relationship had been terminated, the Court granted the motion to withdraw and adjourned the scheduled trial. That decision was communicated to the parties by Text Order entered on July 11, 2014. (Dkt. 65). Nonetheless, the tactics of Mr. Woodworth's claimed eleventh-hour firing are troubling, and the statements that Mr. Woodworth has made to the Court on this subject are conflicting. As a result, this Decision and Order is issued to memorialize the events that have led the parties to the present circumstances and to explain the Court's reasoning for granting the motion to withdraw and adjourning the trial.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit on March 11, 2010,[1] alleging race-based discrimination

Page 536

and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000e et seq., based upon his employment as a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Buffalo VA Medical Center. (Dkt. 1). At the commencement of this lawsuit, Plaintiff was represented by Christina A. Agola, Esq., of the law firm Christina A. Agola, PLLC. (Dkt. 1; Dkt. 63-1 at ¶ 4; Dkt. 63-2 at ¶ 3). Mr. Woodworth, acting as an associate of Christina A. Agola, PLLC, appeared as an attorney of record on September 4, 2012 (Dkt. 36), and handled various matters for Plaintiff in connection with the lawsuit (Dkt. 63-1 at ¶ 5).

On February 7, 2013, the Honorable Michael A. Telesca, United States District Judge, granted in part and denied in part Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Dkt. 40). Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of that decision and Judge Telesca denied the motion on April 29, 2013. (Dkt. 48). The remaining claims to be tried involve a hostile work environment claim and limited retaliation claims. (Dkt. 40).

In September 2013, Ms. Agola was suspended from the practice of law. (Dkt. 63-2 at ¶ 5; Dkt. 63-1 at ¶ 6). On October 30, 2013, Mr. Woodworth wrote to Judge Telesca advising that he had been contacted by Plaintiff to represent him in connection with the lawsuit and that he was considering handling the matter, but he needed more time to review the file. (Dkt. 49). Shortly thereafter, on November 21, 2013, Mr. Woodworth filed a notice of substitution of counsel for Plaintiff on behalf of his new law firm, The Woodworth Law Firm. (Dkt. 50). Both Mr. Woodworth and Plaintiff now contend that Mr. Woodworth never intended to try the case on his own. Rather, due to Mr. Woodworth's " lack of trial experience," he allegedly intended to secure " experienced trial and employment discrimination attorney, Steven Laprade, Esq., to assist as co-counsel in this matter" if the case proceeded to trial. (Dkt. 63-2 at ¶ 8; Dkt. 63-1 at ¶ 8). Mr. Laprade never appeared as attorney of record on the case, and he unfortunately passed away from a terminal illness on May 31, 2014.

After attempts to mediate the remaining claims were unsuccessful, Judge Telesca transferred this matter to the undersigned on April 25, 2014. (Dkt. 55). On May 13, 2014, the Court conducted a trial date status conference, and the jury trial in this matter was scheduled to commence on August 11, 2014. (Dkt. 57, 58). Mr. Woodworth made no mention of Mr. Laprade's involvement at that status conference. Instead, at the conference on May 13, 2014, Mr. Woodworth represented to the Court that he intended to enlist the assistance of another attorney (Andrew Fleming, Esq.), and that ...


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