Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Levi Strauss & Co. said it plans to appeal a $10.6 million jury verdict brought in last week in an El Paso, Tex., court, arising from five worker complaints over their treatment in a company retraining program.
In court papers, Levi Strauss argues that El Paso County Court Judge John L. Fashing conducted a “lopsided and inequitable” trial that kept the company from adequately defending itself. The company has asked Fashing to recuse himself from further proceedings since there’s a companion case pending involving 109 other workers.
The employees allege Levi’s reentry program, designed for employees returning to work after illness or injury, was discriminatory because it was aimed particularly at those who had filed workers’ compensation claims. In their lawsuit, the workers also said the reentry program was boring, demeaning and otherwise humiliating because “they were demoted from their lofty status as workers and human beings to a much lower class of workers and human beings.”
According to the firm, all workers who have been injured, either on or off the job, are required to go through the reentry program to learn about changes in company procedures and the like. They deny that employees who filed for workers’ compensation are singled out.
Levi Strauss charges Fashing hamstrung company attorneys’ attempts to defend the company’s record and that the judge “virtually assumed the role of co-counsel” for the workers, according to Levi’s request for the judge to recuse himself.
In one instance that angered company officials, Fashing blocked submission of a video taken at a retirement party of one of the suing workers. The worker, who alleged the reentry program forced her into early retirement, is recorded praising Levi’s “for making her dreams come true,” according to court documents filed by the company.
“There is no basis for the findings of discrimination and malice in the case. Moreover, the punitive damages awarded in the case are outrageous, unwarranted and egregious,” said Albert Moreno, Levi Strauss’ senior vice president and general counsel.
The jury awarded workers $600,000 in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages. Fashing could change or eliminate the verdict. He could not be reached for comment.