Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

More Million Dollar Verdict Lessons - From Iowa to Alabama

A female researcher whose work once was critically acclaimed, has now obtained a 1.3 million dollar verdict on her sex discrimination claim. You can read the story in the Ames Tribune. Problems arose when her work was challenged by her superiors and she was prevented from attending conferences to present it. Even the limited facts in the newspaper point out a couple of good lessons. One, it is not just termination cases that result in large jury awards. Here the plaintiff was employed during all of the litigation and plans on staying there for two more years until she can retire with full benefits. Also, although the legal claims that made it to trial were sex discrimination and retaliation, the real complaint seems much more directed to her professional pride and reputation. I would not be surprised if this were a case with weak facts on sex discrimination and retaliation, but where the jury really felt she was wronged with respect to the treatment of her work. The only way to find for her was on the legal questions related to sex discrimination and retaliation. As is often said by plaintiffs' lawyers, once you get past summary judgment, it's ALL about fairness. At least until the post-trial motions and appeal.

In Alabama, the story was also a familiar one. An injured miner, can't return to work in his old job. (In this case for certainly understandable reasons.) When no other job can be found, he is terminated, or so he says. The employer says not really, his job is waiting for him when he can return and he is still receiving benefits from the company. Timing is bad as he was ordered back to his old job shortly after filing his workers compensation claim. Jury's verdict: 1.5 million against Jim Walter Resources for workers compensation retaliation as reported in The Birmingham News. Separating, or like here failing to separate, from injured workers is often a tricky question.

Both of these cases just re-enforce another belief held by many defense trial lawyers, that you shouldn't be trying these type of cases close to Christmas.


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