New trial on economic damages for well-known and controversial Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers.
Starting in 2000, Simers worked for the LA Times. Through 2013, Simers had received universally favorable and often exceptional employment performance reviews.
At the age of 62, in 2013, Simers had a “mini” stroke. He eventually returned to work. However, his duties were diminished, and outside creative work that he had been regularly performing with knowledge of the LA Times were now the source of tension.
Simers left to work at another newspaper, and sued the LA Times for constructive termination, age discrimination, and disability discrimination.
At trial, the jury reached a verdict for Simers. The jury awarded $2,137,391 in economic damages for harm caused by his constructive termination and $5 million in non economic damages.
The parties had agreed to give the jury a special verdict form that instructed the members of the jury to fill in the blanks for past and future economic damages only if those members found plaintiff was constructively terminated. Because the special verdict form allowed the jury to award past and future noneconomic damages without identifying which noneconomic damages were caused by the constructive termination and which were caused by the discrimination, the jury did not identify which damages were awarded for which of defendant’s wrongful acts.
Defendant motioned for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on all counts. The trial court found as follows:
- Granted defendant’s motion for JNOV on plaintiff’s constructive termination claim
- Denied defendant’s motion for JNOV on age and discrimination, finding substantial evidence supported the verdicts
- Granted defendant’s motion for new trial on all damages, economic and noneconomic, because it was impossible to determine what damages where based on what claims
The Appeals court affirmed.
With respect to the new trial, the court set forth the rule as follows:
The standard of review is as follows: “The determination of a motion for a new trial rests so completely within the court’s discretion that its action will not be disturbed unless a manifest and unmistakable abuse of discretion clearly appears. This is particularly true when the discretion is exercised in favor of awarding a new trial, for this action does not finally dispose of the matter. So long as a reasonable or even fairly debatable justification under the law is shown for the order granting the new trial, the order will not be set aside.” (Jiminez v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. (1971) 4 Cal.3d 379, 387 (Jiminez).) A new trial order “ ‘must be sustained on appeal unless the opposing party demonstrates that no reasonable finder of fact could have found for the movant on [the trial court’s] theory.’ ” (Lane v. Hughes Aircraft Co. (2000) 22 Cal.4th 405, 412.)
The court rejected plaintiff’s arguments that the award of damages should be sustained because the claim that defendant was found liable on and the claim that defendant was not found liable on were similar and relied on the same evidence. Instead, the court reasoned that to be sustained, the jury was required to determine the damages specifically attributable to the actions defendant was liable for as separated from the actions that defendant was not held liable for. Thus, the court concluded that because it was impossible to distinguish which damages were awarded for which claim, the award of a new trial was appropriate.
So, a new trial on damages for age and discrimination against Simers was ordered.