In what an attorney says is the largest award of its kind in Los Angeles legal history, a 66-year-old man was awarded $26 million by a jury that found he was discriminated against and harassed based upon his age by his supervising managers at Staples.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for parts of Tuesday and Wednesday before finding in favor of Bobby Nickel. The panel awarded him $3.2 million in compensatory damages and more than $22.8 million in punitive damages.
Bobby Dean Nickel, 64 when he lost his job, was hired by Corporate Express in August of 2002 as a facilities manager. Staples Contract and Staples Inc. acquired Corporate Express in 2008.
For nine years, Nickel received positive job reviews, according to his Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, filed in March 2012.
Because Corporate Express’ pay scale was higher than that of employees hired by Staples, Nickel alleged in his complaint that his mangers wanted to discharge older, higher paid employees.
Nickel’s complaint also stated that he was a regular butt of jokes at staff meetings and was referred to as “old coot” and “old goat.”
After he refused to resign when prompted to by a manager, he underwent a series of false accusations and increasing levels of harassment from co- workers and a manager, including being suspended for taking a bell pepper worth 68 cents from the company cafeteria, according to the lawsuit.
A receptionist told Nickel she was ordered by management to provide a false statement about Nickel’s conduct but she refused to do so, according to the lawsuit.
Defense attorneys denied any wrongdoing on the part of Staples and that Nickel suffered the damages he claimed. They said taking of the bell pepper violated the company’s zero-tolerance policy when it came to “dishonesty of any kind, including theft or misappropriation of company property.”
Nickel was fired July 29, 2011. His lawyer, Carney Shegerian, said it represents the largest verdict of its kind in county history, topping another in which he won $21.6 million for another client.
“It’s been a privilege to have had the opportunity to represent Mr. Nickel,” said Shegerian. “He has a long history of being a hard working, ethical professional who had held his position of employment for almost a decade prior to his wrongful termination. This verdict and the justice served will hopefully put employers on notice that they cannot discriminate against employees based on age.”
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