Former Los Angeles Times Sportswriter Wins $15.4 Million Verdict for Age and Disability Discrimination

Don’t pray too hard, you might get what you prayed for”. In this case, the employer who lost at a first trial was awarded a new trial. Unfortunately for the defendant employer, it ended up with a verdict for the employee – twice as bad for the employer as the verdict in the first trial.  

Several publications, including the LA Times, reported that T.J. Simers, a longtime columnist with the LA Times newspaper was awarded $15.4 million in his case against the LA Times. According to US News, the verdict was more than double the verdict that Simers previously won in 2015 against the LA Times. The LA Times had appealed the prior verdict and the judge had lowered the amount of the verdict. This led Simers to also appeal the first verdict.

The second recent verdict also included legal fees and prejudgment interest which means the total amount due Mr. Simers is now over $22 million. The LA Times is evaluating whether they should file a second appeal

The basis for the case

Mr. Simers had worked for the paper as a sportswriter/columnist from 1990 to 2013. He earned $234,000 a year. In 2013, he suffered a mini-stroke while covering the LA Dodgers spring training. Mr. Simers claimed the LA Time cut back how many columns he wrote and tried to force him to leave the newspaper altogether. He was later diagnosed with complex migraine syndrome. 

The LA Times tried to blame Mr. Simers problems on an ethics breach in which Mr. Simers didn’t disclose a business relationship with a video producer involving Dwight Howard, who was playing for the LA Lakers at the time). Mr. Simers countered that his business relationship with the producer’s company had ended prior to the video being produced. The LA Times reported that the business relationship was a comedy loosely based on Simers’ life. The LA Times also reported that Simers’ argued that his supervisors at the LA Times knew of the business relationship and new the sitcom project wasn’t going to be done.

The LA Times suspended Simers with pay and started an investigation.  The LA Times then told him he was being demoted to a reporter but later offered him a one-year contract for his column. Instead, he resigned and went to work for the Orange County Register for less than a year.

As one might expect, the LA Times version of the story is somewhat different. They claimed the newspaper was sold to a third party but that the original publisher, Tronc, Inc. (now called Tribune publishing) assumed liability for the Simers’ case as part of the sale.

The LA Times claims that the higher court did dismiss Simers’ complaint that the LA Times had created an “intolerable working condition” but did agree that he was the victim of age and disability discrimination. The LA Times states that Simers’ “work came under increased scrutiny and criticism by the newspaper’s two top managers at the time — both of whom praised his writing and reporting.”

Age and discrimination lawsuits can be brought based on violations of federal law and violations of California law. Mr. Simers had suffered a disability due to his stroke and was in his 60s at the time of the stroke.