After $7M verdict, new trial on damages ordered in former L.A. Times sports columnist's discrimination lawsuit

By David Hutton | Jan 23, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline) – A California appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling in a discrimination lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times by a longtime sports columnist, and a new trial on damages is scheduled.

Both T.J. Simers and Los Angeles Times Communications filed appeals from the Los Angeles County Superior Court to the Court of Appeals, 2nd Appellate District, Division 8. Simers had been awarded more than $7 million by a jury, but that was complicated when the presiding judge granted part of a post-trial motion regarding whether Simers was constructively terminated.

Remaining are Simers' age and disability discrimination claims. The amount of a verdict could decrease considerably, as the jury awarded $5 million in noneconomic damages after the first trial.

The jury was only allowed to award those types of damages on the constructive termination claim.

Associate Justice Elizabeth Grimes wrote the appellate opinion, with justices Madeleine Flier and Tricia A. Bigelow concurring.

Simers, a well-known sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, filed the lawsuit over allegations of age and disability discrimination after he was stricken by symptoms similar to a mini-stroke on March 16, 2013.

Simers, who was 62 at the time, recovered quickly and soon was writing his column three times per week, according to the Jan. 5 ruling.

However, after two months, the newspaper reduced Simers’ column to twice a week, the ruling indicated.  

After years of exemplary work and great reviews from his supervisors, editors allegedly told Simers that upper management was unhappy with several recent problems and stated “they had been having problems with [his] writing for the past 18 months,” the ruling states.

The court noted that when the Times learned a Hollywood producer was developing a television show loosely based on Simers’ life, it put his column on the shelf for 10 days, terming it a “holiday.”

Court records noted that the Times completed an investigation, which included meetings with Simers, and issued a “final written warning” that removed him from his position as a columnist and made him a senior reporter, though there was no cut in pay.

Simers’ attorney balked at the move and said it was, for all intents and purposes, a termination.

On Sept. 4, 2013, the Times asked Simers to return as a columnist, but the paper didn’t respond to questions about the frequency of his column. By this time, there was a level of distrust and Simers accepted a position as a columnist with the Orange County Register.

A month later, Simers filed a lawsuit against the Times and a jury in the fall of 2015 ruled in his favor for his assertion of age and disability discrimination. The jury awarded plaintiff $2.1 million in economic damages for harm caused by his termination and $5 million in noneconomic damages.

Ultimately, the trial court granted the Times’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) on Simers’ constructive termination claim. The trial court otherwise denied JNOV, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict on Simers’ age and disability discrimination claims, the appellate court noted.

The court also granted the Times’ motion for a new trial on all damages, economic and noneconomic, "finding it was not possible to determine what amount of noneconomic damages the jury awarded because of the discrimination but not because of the constructive discharge," the court stated.

“In sum, there is no legal support for defendant’s assertion that plaintiff suffered no adverse employment action as a matter of law,” she wrote. “Both the law and substantial evidence show otherwise."

Moreover, Grimes noted that the Times presented no other basis for finding error in the trial court’s denial of its JNOV motion on plaintiff’s discrimination claims.

“We therefore affirm the ruling,” she concluded.

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