WSHB’s elite national trial team obtained a defense verdict from a jury in Orange County, California, on behalf of a property management company that specializes in community associations. The defendant was accused of wrongfully terminating an 11-year tenured employee while he was out on medical leave for treatment of Stage 4 cancer.
This trial, the team’s second case taken to verdict during the Covid-19 pandemic, was conducted under less than ideal circumstances with social distancing being enforced by spreading jurors throughout the courtroom, impacting sight lines to witnesses and exhibits, and everyone being required to wear masks, which made both hearing and judging credibility difficult. Through extra effort, strategizing, planning and physical positioning during different phases of the trial, WSHB’s trial team was able to navigate the new difficulties created by the distancing requirements. Specifically, the team prepared maps of the layouts of the courtroom, and the positions of the jurors, and practiced presenting opening and closing statements by rotating positions and directions, in an effort to connect and engage with the judge and each juror. Additionally, WSHB’s trial team spent significant time preparing witnesses for their testimony, with added focus on the location of the jurors, so that witnesses could also rotate their gaze and make eye contact with the jury during their testimony. The team also made adjustments to exhibit presentations, including enlarging exhibits so they could be seen from further distances, and making individual copies of exhibits in some instances, so that multiple jurors would not need to touch the same exhibits. The WSHB team also tried to be mindful and attentive to the juror’s fatigue, and request breaks when jurors seemed to be fidgeting with face masks and otherwise showing signs of disengagement.
In this case, Plaintiff claimed that he was effectively terminated two weeks after starting his medical leave, which was within the timeframe of protected leave under CFRA and FMLA. Plaintiff claimed that the termination was due to retaliation for his taking leave and/or discrimination for his medical condition. Plaintiff also claimed that when he was released back to work 10 months later, the defendant failed to accommodate him or engage in the good faith interactive process by offering him non-comparable positions despite comparable positions being available, then immediately terminating him for failing to accept any offered position.
Defendant countered that Plaintiff was not terminated, but that his position had been eliminated when its client association, where Plaintiff worked on-site, requested a reduction as a budget balancing measure. Defendant also claimed it discussed all open positions in Southern California with Plaintiff, who declined each due to either distance or salary.
Plaintiff asked the jury for almost $5 million in general damages at trial on the basis that he became suicidal when he learned he was terminated upon returning from a lengthy and difficult battle with cancer, and that punitive damages were also appropriate as his termination was devised by the highest level of management.
WSHB’s premier national labor and employment law team is comprised of top tier trial lawyers from each of the firm’s 29 locations. The team provides advice on employment and labor issues and litigates employment disputes for the firm’s diverse client base throughout the country.