Judge cuts $2.1 million from TJ Simers' jury award

simers-howard-grab.jpgBack in November, the Los Angeles Times was ordered to pay $7.1 million in damages to former sports columnist T.J. Simers. He had sued, alleging age discrimination when editors began asking questions about his column before he quit to write for the Orange County Register. Today, a judge deleted $2 million from the potential award, finding "little or no evidence to support a jury's conclusion that he had been forced out of his $234,000-a-year job," the Times reports tonight. There can be a retrial on that point, but the judge allowed the rest of the verdict to remain in place pending appeals.

But while ordering a retrial on Simers' claim of constructive termination, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William A. MacLaughlin let stand, with scant explanation, the jury's award of $5 million in damages on his claims of discrimination based on age and disability.

Lawyers for The Times had asked MacLaughlin to void the entire verdict, which was rendered in early November after a six-week trial. The trial focused on several key issues, including whether Simers was forced out of his job, as he claimed, or left the paper of his own will after he was disciplined for not fully disclosing a conflict of interest, as his editors contended.

MacLaughlin ruled that Simers had failed to meet the test for constructive termination, namely that his employer created or permitted intolerable working conditions.

"Under such a test, an employee who is demoted is not simply permitted to quit and sue because they do not like the new assignment," he wrote. "While it may be a difficult experience to be criticized and demoted, an employee's embarrassment and hurt feelings do not transform a resignation into a constructive discharge."

A Times spokeswomen said the paper would appeal.

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