On August 31, 2012, AALRR attorneys Irma Rodriguez Moisa and Sharon J. Ormond obtained a unanimous jury defense verdict in favor of The Regents of the University of California after a 14-day jury trial. The Plaintiff, James Friedman, was laid off from his position at the University of California at Los Angeles in April 2010 after a reorganization of his unit resulted in his position being eliminated. He filed suit in September 2010 against the Regents, alleging: age and religious creed discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA); retaliation for protesting or opposing of age and gender discrimination in his department in violation of the FEHA; failure to take steps to prevent retaliation from occurring in violation of the FEHA; whistleblower retaliation under California Labor Code section 1102.5 for reporting alleged copyright violations; and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. He further sued two management employees of the University, alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (James Friedman v. The Regents of the University of California, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court, Case No. BC445059.)
During the course of litigation, the Regents successfully obtained, through various motions, dismissals of the claims for religious creed discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, retaliation in violation of public policy, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and dismissals of the two individually named defendants from the action. Consequently, the only claims presented to the jury at trial were the claims for age discrimination, retaliation under the FEHA, and failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation, with alleged economic damages of about $750,000 and non-economic damages of two to three times that amount.
Plaintiff presented evidence at trial that he was 51 years old at the time he was “terminated” from his management position by the department’s Director and that his primary duties were assigned to his former subordinate, who was much younger and earned less money than Plaintiff. He further asserted that the Director engaged in a pattern of forcing out older workers and presented evidence that he protested or opposed of age and gender discrimination after several women had been reduced in hours and several older workers had left his department. Plaintiff also sought to establish that unlawful motives must have been the basis for the termination, as the Director had informed his supervisor of various performance issues he had with Plaintiff, yet he failed to engage in progressive discipline before terminating the Plaintiff.
By contrast, the defense presented evidence that Plaintiff’s unit was in fact reorganized, and done so in accordance with goals identified through strategic planning. The defense evidence further showed that Plaintiff’s position was eliminated, as indicated by his supervisory duties being assumed by his superiors and his other duties being eliminated or, to a limited extent, assigned to his former subordinate under the supervision of the Director (who was older than the Plaintiff). The evidence showed that Plaintiff never submitted any written complaints about age or gender discrimination, and the defense make clear that Plaintiff’s protest was, at best, a passing remark that the reduction in hours of three women did not look good. There was extensive evidence presented by the defense to support a determination that Plaintiff had not been a good communicator and had failed to keep the Director informed of major developments in his area despite a directive to do so, and that these issues resulted in the timing of the reorganization being done sooner than originally planned.
After closing arguments, the jury deliberated just under an hour before delivering a unanimous 12-0 defense verdict as to each Mr. Friedman’s claims.