New Jersey District Court Judge Discards Jury’s $50 Million Punitive Damage Award to Age Discrimination Plaintiff

About a year ago, we published an article on the firm’s LaborSphere blog about a $51.4 million jury award to a former Lockheed Martin employee who alleged age discrimination when he was let go as part of a company-wide reduction in force (“RIF”).  At the time of the verdict, press coverage speculated that the multimillion dollar verdict was roughly five times more than any prior award, throughout the country, in a single-plaintiff discrimination case.  Recently, U.S. District Court Judge Renee Bumb tossed out the $50 million punitive damages award because the plaintiff failed to show that Lockheed Martin’s upper management was involved in or indifferent to the discriminatory conduct.

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How Can Employers Respond to Increased Risks of Well-Funded Harassment Litigation Stemming from the #MeToo Movement?

Cheryl Orr and Phil Lebel wrote an article for Risk & Compliance magazine titled “How Can Employers Respond to Increased Risks of Well-Funded Harassment Litigation Stemming from the #MeToo Movement?” They discuss the recent uptick in sexual harassment allegations in the wake of the #MeToo campaign, which began following allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.

Cheryl and Phil highlight litigation finance and funding firms that have invited individuals who believe they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace to share their stories, seek legal representation, and, in some cases, receive “angel” litigation funding. They state that “[i]f this is, in fact, the beginning of a groundswell of harassment claims, the impact to employers could be tremendous. An increase in sexual harassment claims…could mean rising litigation expenses. Moreover, in the current social and political climate, verdicts could be increasingly unpredictable as juries attempt to ‘correct’ larger social problems by punishing employers who are found liable.” The article also notes that lawmakers in several jurisdictions are facing voter pressure to address the perceived shortcomings in the current legal framework, as applied to sexual harassment cases.

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Could A Litigation Finance Initiative Capitalize On #MeToo?

Since early October 2017, when the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein first surfaced in The New York Times and The New Yorker, there has been a steady stream of allegations of sexual harassment against high-profile individuals in the media, entertainment and political industries. Now, a Bay Area startup backed by Peter Thiel is looking to take advantage of a potential new wave of sexual harassment lawsuits.

On November 8, 2017, San Francisco-based litigation finance firm Legalist, Inc. launched a new initiative dubbed #MeToo Tales (“M2T”). According to its website, M2T is “a collaboration between Legalist and community organizers working to help victims of sexual harassment get justice.” M2T invites individuals who believe that they have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace to share their stories confidentially on the initiative’s website or via a toll-free hotline. Legalist offers to pair claimants with its partner law firms and, for “eligible” individuals, to provide “angel” litigation funding of up to $100,000. Legalist recoups its funding by taking a portion of the proceeds from any successful litigation or settlement.

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Individual Liability for California Wage-and-Hour Violations: Developments on California Authority in 2017

Can employees sue individuals for wage-and-hour violations? That is the question numerous trial courts have been asked since the enactment of California Labor Code section 558.1 (“Section 558.1”) in 2016. Unfortunately, no binding authority on the question exists yet, but several trial courts have concluded that employees can.

Under Section 558.1(a), “[a]ny employer or other person acting on behalf of an employer who violates, or causes to be violated,” several labor code provisions, “may be held liable as the employer for such violation.” The term “other person acting on behalf of an employer” means any person who is an owner, director, officer, or managing agent of the employer. Lab. Code § 558.1(b). Generally speaking, managing agents are corporate employees who exercise substantial independent authority and judgment so that their decisions ultimately determine corporate policy; in other words, “managing agents” aren’t necessarily just company executives.

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Florida Federal Court Rules That Winn-Dixie’s Website Violated the ADA

Retailers throughout the country have been besieged by lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are not accessible to the visually impaired and that this lack of accessibility violates Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiffs’ bar, without definitive guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the courts, has assumed that retail websites are “places of a public accommodation” under the ADA and that the appropriate compliance level should be the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A or AA.
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Jury Awards $51 Million to an Age Discrimination Plaintiff: What Can We Learn?

A New Jersey jury awarded a mid-level manager $51.4 million(!) on January 26, 2017, after a short four-day trial. New Jersey juries have awarded age discrimination plaintiffs multi-million dollar verdicts in the past – but $51 million is roughly five times any prior award. Press coverage on the verdict speculates that this may be the highest jury award ever, throughout the country, in a single-plaintiff age discrimination case. While the post-trial motions and appeals are yet to be filed, there are some initial takeaways from this case.

As with most age discrimination lawsuits, this case arose out of a reduction in force (RIF). Robert Braden had been employed by Lockheed Martin, and its predecessors, for 28 years when he was let go in July of 2012 as part of a company-wide RIF. Six months later, Mr. Braden filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC based on the fact that he was the oldest of 6 people in a company unit, and the only one fired from that unit. He alleged that he was selected for the layoff at age 66 while the two other employees holding his same title, both significantly younger (ages 42 and 38), were allowed to keep their jobs. He also alleged that the company had a practice of giving younger workers better reviews and raises to keep them at the company, while older workers were given lower ratings and raises since they “had nowhere else to go.” He subsequently withdrew his claim with the EEOC so he could sue Lockheed Martin, which he did in federal court in Camden, New Jersey in 2014.

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