The case is Nickel v. Staples Contract and Commercial, Inc. (Shegerian and Associates) decided on 2/27/14 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. A summary of the case may be viewed here.
As reported by the plaintiff’s attorneys (Shegerian and Associates), Nickel began working for Corporate Express (now Staples Contract and Commercial) in 2002 as a facilities manager and had regularly received exemplary performance reviews when he was terminated at age 64. The attorneys presented evidence that there was a desire to “get rid of” older, higher-paid employees and that Nickel was the butt of jokes at staff meetings at which he was referred to as an “old coot” and “old goat.” It was alleged that Nickel was asked to voluntarily resign by his manager and refused, and that he was written up and suspended for stealing after taking a 68-cent bell pepper from the company cafeteria. Additionally, a receptionist testified she had been order by management to provide a false statement about Nickel.
After a 12-day trial, the jury awarded Nickel $26,106,664, including $260,000 in back pay, $603,416 for front pay, $1,600,000 and $800,000, respectively, for past and future noneconomic loss (presumably compensatory damages for pain and suffering). As if that wasn’t enough, the jury awarded an additional $22,843,912 in punitive damages ($13,053,664 against Staples Contract and Commercial and $9,790,248 against Staples Inc.). According to Shegerian and Associates, this is the largest employment-related award of any kind in Los Angeles legal history.
What’s interesting here is that had this been a Federal case under the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), the award would have been limited to back pay, front pay, and liquidated damages for a willful violation (i.e., double the award) on the back pay award. By my calculation, that would have been roughly $1,123,416 … substantial, but a far cry from $26,106,664.
by Art Gutman, Ph.D., Professor, Florida Institute of Technology