Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Friday, March 17, 2006

Wine Country Verdict Bad News for Sonoma County - $6.5 MDV

It is hard to beat Sonoma County as a place for relaxation and enjoyment of the wine country, but for employers -- that would appear to be another story if this week's jury verdict for a county employee is any indication. After a five week trial, followed by five days of deliberation the end result is -- Sonoma County Will Challenge $6.5 Million Verdict.

George Alberigi, a Medi-Cal eligibility case worker with the county's Human Services Department, claimed he lost his job because of his agoraphobia, which prevented him from having face to face contact with his clients. Apparently he had done his job by dealing with clients on the telephone since 1980, but when he sought a promotion in 2001 he was told it would require face to face contact. Somewhere between there and and 2003 things went off the rail and he filed suit, then subsequently retired due to his disability. How all that equals $1.5 million for lost wages and $5 million for pain and suffering is a little hard to decipher from the news reports.

Even more than most big verdicts, this one sounds as if it may have trouble standing up to further challenge, but it doesn't change the message -- juries take the treatment of employees very seriously. And although description by job title doesn't mean all that much, it is interesting to note how the plaintiff's lawyer, Stephen Murphy characterized the jury:
This wasn't a wild jury. There was a business owner, an insurance adjuster and a paralegal on the jury.
Probably not a view shared by county officials.

Update: May 15, 2006. The trial judge has shaved $4 million from the jury verdict, reducing the award to a still sizeable $2.5. Plaintiff has until this Friday to accept the lowered award or face a new trial on damages. The Court also conditionally granted a new trial finding juror misconduct on the damages. Affidavits indicated that jurors increased the award 40% for attorneys fees and 35% for taxes. The Court still has to award attorneys fees. See California Judge Slices $4 Million Off Award to Agoraphobic Worker, Daily Labor Report ($).


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