On July 13, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Jamal N. Whitehead to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Whitehead is currently a trial attorney at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, where he regularly represents victims of workplace discrimination and unfair labor practices. He was previously a federal trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. Whitehead, who is Black and who uses a prosthetic leg, is the first person with a disability nominated to the federal bench by President Biden.
Jamal N. Whitehead was born in Turnersville, New Jersey in 1979 and raised in Seattle, Washington. His family, originally from Virginia, witnessed the ugliness of Jim Crow and the hope of Brown v. Board of Education. Whitehead credits his parents and grandparents for enabling him to pursue higher education and become a lawyer. He earned his B.A. in political science from the University of Washington in 2004 and his J.D. from the Seattle University School of Law in 2007. At Seattle Law, he served on the Moot Coot Board, was a Dean’s Diversity Scholar, and was awarded the Golden Gavel Award and Order of the Barristers.
Whitehead began his legal career as an associate at the Seattle law firm Garvey Schubert Barer, practicing in the Commercial Litigation and Labor & Employment Law practice groups from 2007 to 2010. In this capacity, he represented companies in various employment law matters and business disputes involving contracts, real estate, agency law, labor law, and creditor issues.
In 2010, Whitehead transitioned to public service, joining the Seattle Field Office of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As a trial attorney (2010) and senior trial attorney (2011-2014) at the EEOC, he enforced federal employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, litigating individual and multi-claimant cases against private employers in federal court. From 2014 to 2016, Whitehead was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. He represented the United States and its agencies in a wide range of civil lawsuits brought by and against the government, including employment and tort-based claims.
Since 2016, Whitehead has worked at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender. He began as an associate and was promoted to shareholder in 2018. Whitehead typically represents victims of workplace discrimination, retaliation, and other unfair labor practices in individual and class actions. He has tried cases in state and federal court, argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and served as lead counsel in numerous state and federal employment and tort-based matters.
Whitehead has extensive experience representing classes of employees in employment disputes. For example, in Nwauzor v. The GEO Group, Inc., he represented a group of detained immigrants who were paid $1 per day to clean, do laundry, wash dishes, and perform other non-security jobs at a privately-run immigration detention center. Plaintiffs argued the GEO Group and detainee workers formed an employer-employee relationship, thereby requiring the workers to be paid the state minimum wage of $12 per hour. Whitehead served as lead counsel for a class of over 10,000 detainee workers. Ultimately, a jury trial resulted in a unanimous verdict finding that the GEO Group violated Washington law and awarding the class $17.3 million in backpay. An appeal is currently pending before the Ninth Circuit.
Additionally, he has led favorable settlement negotiations on behalf of employees in several class actions. This includes obtaining more than $2 million in settlements for workers at SeaTac Airport denied the lawful minimum wage and $1.5 million and $1 million settlements on behalf of delivery truck drivers and warehouse workers misclassified as overtime exempt.
Throughout his career in public service and private practice, Whitehead has litigated many disability discrimination cases on behalf of both individual plaintiffs and the federal government. For example, in Coachman v. Seattle Auto Management, Inc., he represented a 14-year Mercedes Benz employee, Mr. Coachman, who was fired after losing his vocal cords to cancer. Even though doctors cleared Mr. Coachman to return to work, the Mercedes dealership feared that his vocal prosthetic and new voice would be off-putting to clients and fired him. Mr. Coachman sued alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Washington law. Whitehead was part of the trial team that obtained a $4.9 million jury verdict for Mr. Coachman in U.S. District Court. Additionally, he briefed and argued the appeal before the Ninth Circuit, which resulted in the jury’s verdict being upheld.
While at the EEOC, he represented the government in a disability discrimination enforcement action against a large payday-loan lender in Eastern Washington. The case, EEOC v. Cottonwood Fin. Wash. LLC, involved an employee with bipolar disorder who requested several days off work to adjust to new medication. The company refused to grant any leave and eventually fired the employee when he became symptomatic at work. Following a bench trial, the district court found the employer liable and awarded economic and emotional distress damages to the employee and injunctive relief against the defendant. During his time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Whitehead defended the United States Postal Service (USPS) in Hatch v. Donahoe, after an employee with multiple sclerosis alleged she was discriminated against and subjected to retaliation and a hostile work environment. Ultimately, the district court granted USPS’s motion for summary judgment, which the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
Whitehead has also represented plaintiffs and the government in employment disputes involving race discrimination claims. In Scott v. Multicare Health System, he was lead counsel for a Black woman surgeon, Dr. Scott, who alleged she was unlawfully terminated based on her sex and race and in retaliation for having voiced concerns about patient safety. The case involved several complex discovery issues that the district court resolved in Dr. Scott’s favor. Ultimately, the parties settled the case on terms that were favorable to Whitehead’s client. In Miller v. Boys & Girls Club of Snohomish County, Whitehead represented Ms. Miller, a Black woman youth leader at a local Boys & Girls Club. Following a trivial work dispute, Ms. Miller’s boss verbally and physically accosted her; she believed the attack was racially motivated and reported it to a local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Boys & Girls Club insisted that Ms. Miller acknowledge that she handled the situation poorly, denied her a promotion, and treated her unfairly until she was forced to resign. Ms. Miller sued for race discrimination and unlawful retaliation. Whitehead successfully opposed the Club’s motion for summary judgment and oversaw settlement negotiations, which resulted in favorable terms for Ms. Miller.
At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Whitehead represented the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Jordan v. Foxx, a race discrimination and retaliation case brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. As sole counsel for the agency, he formulated the defense strategy, took and defended depositions, drafted discovery motions, and drafted the FAA’s successful summary judgment motion.
Sexual Harassment and Assault
While at the EEOC, Whitehead served as co-counsel in EEOC v. Evans Fruit Company. In two federal lawsuits, the EEOC alleged a large apple-growing and exporting company failed to prevent and remedy sexual harassment and assault in its orchards, then retaliated against 20 women who reported abuse. The retaliation and witness intimidation were so severe that the district court determined a temporary restraining order was necessary. After several years of litigation, the jury ruled for the company in the first case and the parties reached a settlement agreement in the second case. Whitehead was instrumental in all stages of litigation, including formulating case strategy and responding to discovery requests.
Professional Activities and Accolades
In addition to his work as a litigator, Whitehead has devoted substantial time to other professional activities. Since 2020, he has co-chaired the Litigation Academy for the Federal Bar Association of the Western District of Washington, which focuses on improving participants’ trial skills. From 2009 to 2015, he served on the Executive Board of the Loren Miller Bar Association, where he mentored the next generation of Black attorneys in Washington. Whitehead also played a key role in opening the Loren Miller Bar Association Neighborhood Legal Clinic to provide free legal advice primarily to low-income Black Americans in the Seattle area. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being recognized by Washington Law & Politics Magazine as a Super Lawyer for 2019-2022.