Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Thursday, March 31, 2005

An MDV Roundup


On the day when we get a report blasting our intelligence agencies for their findings on WMDs, let me take a shot on some recent reports of MDV's, or million dollar verdicts in employment cases.

The first stop could be subtitled, Same Song, Second Verse, Could Have Been Better, But Instead It Got Worse. That would pretty much sum up the feelings of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which was ordered to pay $2.1 million to a former employee who was fired shortly after testifying against the Lab in a sexual harassment suit. The first time around, a jury awarded her $1 million, but the award was overturned on appeal. You can check out a press release from the first trial in a google cached version here.

Winning on appeal and with new trial counsel, the Laboratory would have hoped for a better outcome than, Jury again sides with lab whistle-blower, awards her $2.1 million, according to the headline from the Oakland Tribune. And what was it that the Laboratory claimed led to her termination: "using her lab computer to convert some files for a friend's business and for making $4.30 in personal phone calls." The best quote -- from a juror in the 2nd trial: "I think in this instance common sense didn't prevail."

Moving from the left coast to the Big Easy (where I will be later next month checking out Jazz Fest), more public money was being put at risk, this time because of a newly elected DA's decision to terminate 53 of the 77 white non-lawyers in his office. The New York Lawyer headline, Jury Says New Orleans Prosecutor Discriminated Against Whites, tells what happened and the body of the story gives the body -- make that money count, $1.8 million dollars. The DA, who still feels he was right and will appeal says his office doesn't have the money to pay.

Moving north to Milwaukee, it may be a little premature to put the verdict of 17 white police officers denied promotions in the million dollar category since the jury has to come back to make the damage findings next week, but the headline, Milwaukee could pay millions to cops who won discrimination suit, probably justifies its inclusion.

The flaw in the case, according to some analysis by lawyers familiar with the trial was the testimony (and actions) of the Chief himself. Called as the very first witness by the plaintiffs (always a bad sign):

Jones freely admitted that his criteria for choosing captains was highly subjective. Most choices, he admitted, were made without consulting the supervisors' evaluations he mistrusted, the résumés he felt didn't explain a person's aptitudes, or the department's own personnel records. Nominations were made, Jones said frequently during his testimony, "because I felt that they were the best qualified person."

4/5/05 Update: The case did qualify for the MDV summary, Jury awards $2.2 million to officers in discrimination case.

7/27/07 Update: It appears as the case will end in a total settlement of $2.65 million. Police lawsuit settlement: $2.65 million

Three million dollar + verdicts in three different parts of the country. Makes my speech topic at my firm's annual client seminar, How Employers Make Juries Mad -- And Pay For It With Big Verdicts, seem pretty timely.

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