Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Windy City MDV - $6 Million for Age/Disability Case

I have been woefully remiss in noting MDV's going back over the last several months. I have several stuck in the draft stage that hopefully at some point I will clean up. But that doesn't mean that juries are not still showing the ability to be upset, beyond what most would consider the point of reason, when faced with facts that perhaps hit too close to home.

The latest example as reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, Woman awarded $6 million in bias suit against Abbott. An extra twist to this case, which is a particularly good message for employers to remember in this day of alternative work arrangments, was that Carol Tomao, the successful plaintiff, had worked as a contract employee for several years at Abbott. According to Tomao she had long been promised to be converted to a regular employee.

That plan went aside according to her attorney, Noelle Brennan, when:

During an interview for the position, a job that entails physical activity, Abbott's manager told Tomao that "we're all getting older and can't do things we used to" and asked her if she could still "get out there and climb around anymore."

In addition, as it seems is almost always present in these cases, Tomao alleged that when she complained when the job went to someone in their twenties, that she was terminated within a few days.

Some may wonder why in a "management" employment law blog, I track million dollar verdicts since clearly a verdict often never makes it even to an initial judgment, and even less frequently makes it to a paid judgment. My goal as with a lot of this blog is mostly personal — to remind me, and all of us who work on this side of the docket, employers and the lawyers who represent them — that in the heart and mind of every potential jury is the possibility of seeing things far differently from the "reality" of what we "know" actually happened.

I have long maintained that employment law trials are "different." Knowing that does not mean every employment case should be settled, far from it; but it does mean that once a case is to be tried, it is important to remember how protective of their "fellow employees" jurors can be, and make sure that your case is tried with that perspective in mind. Seeing how often jurors can be incited to hit seven figures is a good way of making sure it remains clear in at least my mind.


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