As jury verdicts go, former Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers got a pretty good one.
A jury in Los Angeles on Monday handed Simers a win in his long-running wrongful termination suit to the tune of $15.5 million after a weeklong trial and a day of deliberation over his claims that he was illegally demoted and effectively forced out of his position at the paper. Simers sued the L.A. Times, along with its then parent Tribune Publishing, claiming his age and a new disability stemming from a “mini stroke” were what led to the changes at work. The L.A. Times was sold last year.
The jury found that the paper had damaged him noneconomically in the amount of $450,000 when it (in the summer of 2013) reduced his columns to two a week from three and in the amount of $7.5 million when it soon demoted him from being a sports columnist to senior reporter. Simers, 62 when he first filed suit in 2013, had been a columnist since 2000 and argued that he’d received nothing but positive feedback in performance reviews. He started at the paper in 1990. The jury also found that Simers suffered “future” noneconomic damages of an additional $7.5 million. Noneconomic damages are typically for claims like mental and emotional suffering, in this case largely tied to Simer’s subsequent depression stemming from his alleged treatment by company executives in the wake of his mini-stroke and allegations that he was suddenly subject to much more scrutiny, despite his allegedly full recovery.
A spokeswoman for the L.A. Times alluded to the possibility of the company moving to appeal the jury verdict, adding: “We believe that the award is unreasonable.”
While an appeal seems likely, damages awarded by juries are often reduced, sometimes drastically, by judges who review and make the final determination on jury awards. There is a hearing scheduled for next month.
Nevertheless, Astineh Arakelian, Simers’ attorney, said she sees no grounds for an appeal and that there is currently “no indication” there will be any reduction in the jury award.
“He shouldn’t have been treated this way and it’s incredible that he’s willing to go through this kind of process,” Arakelian said, noting Simers is about to turn 69. “He put his life on the line here trying to get the right thing done — he always talks about ‘right is right’ and he stood up for that.”
Simers’ case has already been successfully appealed, in part, once before. In fall of 2015, another jury awarded him just over $7 million in economic and noneconomic damages after finding that he was discriminated against for his age and disability and “constructively terminated,” a legal term meaning the conditions of his employment changed such that he was forced to quit. Both Simers and the L.A. Times appealed the ruling. A state appeals court agreed that Simers had been discriminated against, but disagreed that he’d been constructively terminated and sent the case back to the Superior Court for the noneconomic damages portion of the case to be re-tried. Considering the new jury doubled the noneconomic damages award, it likely didn’t work out quite as the L.A. Times had hoped.
When Simers left the L.A. Times in 2013, he immediately took up as a columnist with the Orange County Register. He accepted a buyout the following year and retired.
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