After having its appeal denied by the Court of Appeal in May of this year, Staples once again appealed the $13 million punitive damages portion of the judgment before the Supreme Court, but yesterday it was announced that after extensive review, the court found no reason to reverse or reduce the award of punitive damages.
Nickel, a 64-year-old man at the time of his termination by Staples, was employed by Corporate Express since August of 2002 as a facilities manager. Staples Contract and Staples Inc. acquired Corporate Express in 2008. For 9 years, Nickel received regularly positive reviews for performing his work in an exemplary manner.
Shegerian represented Nickel in court two years ago, resulting in a jury decision that found Nickel had been discriminated against and harassed, based upon his age, by his supervising managers at Staples. The court announced the award of $16.3 million, made up of $863,416 in economic damages, $2.4 million in non-economic damages, and $13,053,664 in punitive damages. Staples unsuccessfully appealed the punitive damages amount before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Nickel had alleged in his complaint that his managers noted that they needed to “get rid of” older, higher paid employees. Nickel’s complaint also explained how he became the regular butt of jokes at staff meetings and was referred to as “old coot” and “old goat.”
Among the compelling evidence Shegerian presented during the original trial was the fact that after Nickel refused to resign voluntarily 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 written up and suspended for “stealing,” after taking a bell pepper valued at 68 cents from the company cafeteria. Further, a receptionist had approached Nickel explaining she had been ordered by management to provide a false statement about Nickel’s conduct but she refused to do so. Regardless, Nickel was fired on July 29 of 2011.
Shegerian was able to show that this termination was wrongful and had followed a series of discriminatory and harassing events.
“We’re pleased, honored and humbled that the court once again affirmed the jury’s decision in this textbook age discrimination case,” said Shegerian. “It’s been a privilege to have had the opportunity to represent Mr. Nickel, who had a long history of being a hard working, ethical professional. He held his position of employment for almost a decade prior to his wrongful termination. He can finally put this challenging experience behind him. The affirmation of this verdict, and the justice served for Mr. Nickel will hopefully put employers on notice that they simply cannot discriminate against employees based on age.”
(Case No. B257420)
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