Two Ex-Reporters’ Million Dollar Age Discrimination Cases Made Headlines in LA this Week

In one of the cases, a former sports reporter for the LA Times won a $7.1 million jury verdict after alleging he was forced out of his job because of his age.  The sports writer, TJ Simers, was with the newspaper for decades before, he claims, the paper constructively terminated him by creating intolerable conditions, discriminating against him due to his age, and because he suffered a stroke.

The paper argued that it never fired Mr. Simers and that he allegedly concealed a conflict of interest when he arranged to have a television producer film him during an interview of an NBA star (which was for his own benefit rather than for the paper).  In response, Mr. Simers’ attorneys argued, successfully, that the ethical violation allegation was merely a pretext, or unlawful reason, to demote him.  At the end, the jury found that the newspaper discriminated against the columnist by issuing a final warning to him and insisting on the demotion without giving him a first warning.  Consequently, the columnist resigned because he felt mistreated.  As result, the jury awarded Mr. Simers $2.5 million for past non-economic damages, $2.5 million for future non-economic damages, $1.8 million for future economic damages, and $330,000 for past economic damages.

In a similar case, a former reporter sued NBC for age discrimination and demanded $5.5 million in damages.  The main cause of action was whether age played a substantial motivating factor in NBC’s firing of the 69 year old Frank Snepp.  Mr. Snepp’s attorneys argued that NBC was trying to appeal to a younger audience and used the pretext (similar to the case above) of a record of insubordination to fire him.  NBC’s attorneys responded that Mr. Snepp was hired when he was 61 as a freelancer and full time at age 62.  Then, re-hired at age 66 and asked to take on a new position as content producer when the company reorganized in 2009.  His refusal to take on the new position and alleged negative performance reviews eventually led to his firing.  Although the jury was unable to arrive at a verdict, the case will be re-tried next year.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects employees over age 40 against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.  An employer must “regularly” employ five or more employees to be covered by FEHA. This means that if a business has five or more regular employees, then FEHA and its protections apply to those employees.  We’ve seen more and more age discrimination cases in our Los Angeles office especially as the entertainment industry transitions to new technology and focuses on a younger audience.  See these other blogs for similar cases.

Many of the cases we handle at Stephen Danz & Associates involve employers who deny employees with qualifying disabilities reasonable accommodations or discharge employees for age-related reasons.  We have extensive experience handling discrimination cases and are happy to talk to you if you have a question about your employment situation.  Contact us today for a free consultation.