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Supreme Court affirms $16 million age discrimination verdict

The California Supreme Court recently delivered extremely good news to a former employee of the Staples office supply store in La Mirada. The court denied the petition for review by Staples of an appellate court order affirming a $16 million verdict in the employee's favor.

The case began when a new manager arrived at the Staples store. The employee had worked at the facility for seven years prior to the new manager's arrival. Evidence at trial showed that the new manager intended to cut costs by eliminating older, higher paid workers. His principal method was to increase the workload for these employees and then file negative reports if they failed to meet the increased burden. The negative reports were then used as a pretext for firing the employee. The plaintiff was 64-years-old when the defendants determined that he had stolen a bell pepper from the cafeteria and fired him. The pepper cost $0.69, and the plaintiff testified that he ultimately paid for the item.

Following his discharge, the plaintiff sued Staples and a related corporation for age discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and breach of express and implied contracts. The trial court dismissed all of the claims except for the age discrimination claim. That claim was tried before a jury, and the jury awarded the plaintiff $3.2 million in compensatory damages for lost wages and emotional distress and $22.8 million in punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the punitive damage award to $13 million. Staples appealed the case to the Second Appellate Court, but that court affirmed the entire verdict. Staples then asked the state supreme court to hear the case. The supreme court's denial of Staples's petition for review means that the case is over and the plaintiff will ultimately be paid the amount awarded by the jury.

This lawsuit teaches two lessons. First, an age-based claim of discrimination can prevail even against a large corporate defendant. Second, such cases often require multiple appeals, and a dedicated attorney is necessary to nurture the case through the appellate process. Anyone who believes that they are the victim of race, gender or age discrimination may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in discrimination cases. A knowledgeable attorney can provide a helpful analysis of the law and facts of the case and can suggest various strategies to optimize the chance of a successful outcome.

Source: California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Nickel v. Staples Contract & Commercial, Inc., accessed on August 22, 2016

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