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Staples Loses Discrimination Case

By Thomas M Lee

$16.3 Million Age Discrimination Award Against Staples Upheld by Court of Appeal

On May 26, 2016, the Second District of the CA Court of Appeal upheld a $16.3 million judgment—comprised of $3.2 million in compensatory damages and slightly more than $13 million in punitive damages—in favor of a man found to have been fired because of his age.

The punitive damage award is against a subsidiary of Staples, Inc., while the balance of the award is against both the subsidiary and Staples.

The jury voted to award an even higher amount—22.8 million in punitive damages—but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney struck their $9.8 million exemplary-damages award against the parent company.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy D. Hogue, sitting on assignment, wrote the unpublished opinion for Div. Three.

She declared that there was ample evidence that the new manager of the plant at which plaintiff Bobby Dean Nickel facilities manager was on a quest to cut costs by getting rid of older, higher paid employees and replacing them with younger part-time and temporary employees.

Nickel was fired for stealing a 68-cent bell pepper from the company cafeteria. His testimony, which was corroborated, was that it was customary to take food after-hours and pay for it later, which he had done in the past.

He was 64 at the time of his July 29, 2011 firing.

Although the opinion is unpublished and thus has no precedent effect on any Court, it is however significant in that it reiterates the high burden of proof a Plaintiff must meet in order to prevail on a wrongful termination or discrimination case. Here, there was evidence that there was a “concerted attempt to get rid of the higher paid, older workers” following Defendants’ take over. In management meetings, management employees talked about the company’s desire to push out older employees and instructions to find reasons to discharge them. Specifically, managers were told to “ ‘[t]ake a closer look at the older people. They are starting to drag and are slowing down. If they are not top performers, write them up and get rid of them.’ ” Staples' Managers also said, “ ‘[w]e need young energetic people. Walk around the facility with the older workers and if they cannot keep up then get rid of them.’”

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