- A Los Angeles jury has awarded $15.45 million to T.J. Simers, a former Los Angeles Times sports columnist who was fired at the age of 62 after suffering "what was thought to be a mini-stroke," according to a news release by Simers' trial lawyer.
- In 2015, a jury awarded Simers more than $2 million in economic damages and $5 million in non-economic damages, but the trial court granted the L.A. Times' request for a new trial limited to the amount of damages, according to court documents.
- The appeals court granting the new trial noted that Simers had "uniformly favorable and often exceptional" performance reviews, including that he was a "brilliant columnist" and, according to one of his editors, "the best, toughest reporter I had."
Employers often have trouble defending adverse actions against employees with strong performance records, particularly if an employee is long-tenured. Simers, for example, had been in his position for about 23 years when he was fired. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a $334,500 jury verdict to a 61-year-old employee who was fired following a single incident of backdating a form.
Regardless of past reviews or length of employment, good documentation is critical whenever an employee is disciplined or terminated. A complete lack of documentation may be undesirable, but having insufficient or unhelpful notes on file can be just as bad.
The timing of adverse employment actions matters a lot, too. Even if an adverse employment action is taken for legitimate and nondiscriminatory reasons, if it happens close in time to a protected activity or condition, it can appear to have been motivated by illegal factors. Timing can, in fact, establish a presumption of illegality all by itself in certain cases, experts previously told HR Dive.
The reverse is also true: The longer the period between protected activity and an adverse action, the less it may look like an illegal response. A Texas DMV employee recently failed to show a link between his filing of a bias lawsuit and his termination almost 18 months later; the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the DMV that poor performance was the real reason for the firing.