Million Dollar Verdicts From the South
by Michael Fox
Maybe last week was a bad week to go to trial, at least in the South. Two long term employees, each racked up million dollar verdicts, one for discrimination, one for defamation.
Lt. Liz Summers, a 26 year veteran of the Atlanta Fire Department, was passed over for a section chief job, even though she was deemed the best qualified for two open positions. The Atlanta federal jury that found she had been discriminated against in the promotion process, also decided the injury was worth $1,000,000. The AP story quotes the city attorney as saying they were "surprised by the verdict". I would think so. Her attorney expects her to receive a promotion to section chief soon. That these underlying facts, a worker who has not lost a job just a promotion, can still stir a jury to a large award, is a good reminder of what can happen when an employer's decision is turned over to a jury for judging..
Karen Brackin was a 24 year employee of Family Security Credit Union in Morgan County, Alabama, who uncovered a multi-million dollar check-kiting scheme. Rather than singing her praises, she herself was accused of similar behavior and ultimately fired. Although she lost her job, the jury awarded her the same $1,000,000 as Lt. Summers. In an interesting twist, two of those making accusations against Brackin who were called as witnesses at trial, took the 5th Amendment, to avoid incriminating themselves. The Herald Tribune has the story. Having the one who committed the offense be the investigator/accuser sounds bizarre, and it is, but it also is something that I have seen more than once over the years of my practice.