Continuing an alarming recent pattern of multi-million dollar jury awards (see our earlier post), a Los Angeles jury panel recently awarded $17.4 million to a former employee of the Bureau of Sanitation. The employee claimed he had been retaliated against because he had taken part in “protected activities” and because he had filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Although his employment was terminated by the Bureau, he successfully appealed the termination and was reinstated. After he was reinstated, he claimed he was the subject of “rampant insults and slurs, verbally and in drawings, that implied he is gay.” The employee was so distraught that he collapsed at work, went to the hospital and never returned to the job. He sued the employer for sexual orientation discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation, all of which allegedly caused depression, hypertension, vertigo, weight loss, heart damage and emotional distress. The jury awarded the employee $15 million in past and future emotional distress damages and approximately $2.4 million in economic damages for lost wages and benefits. In addition, the Court awarded the employee another $1.55 million in prevailing-party attorney’s fees.
We’ve said it before… We’ll say it again: Arbitrate, arbitrate, arbitrate. Lose no time in carefully considering and possibly implementing a mandatory pre-dispute arbitration regime.