This is a weird plot turn, but everything about this episode has been a little bit head-scratching. According to the LA Times and the paper's attorneys, Superior Court Judge William A. MacLaughlin this morning voided the remaining $5 million in damages awarded by a jury to former sports columnist T.J. Simers in his age-discrimination lawsuit. MacLaughlin had vacated the first $2.1 million in damages yesterday, but at the time left it unclear what he intended with the rest of the original $7.1 million award.
The Times story this afternoon says that the judge ruled from the bench today that Simers was not entitled to any damages on his claims that the newspaper discriminated against him because of his age and a disability.
On Monday, MacLaughlin ruled that there was little or no evidence to support the jury’s conclusion on Simers’ claim of constructive termination, namely that the newspaper had created or permitted intolerable working conditions. Instead, the judge ruled, Simers had quit of his own accord.
“An employee who is demoted is not simply permitted to quit and sue because they do not like the new assignment,” he wrote Monday. “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.”
The judge’s written ruling said there was “substantial evidence” to support Simers’ discrimination claims, but did not address the issue of damages. At a hearing Tuesday, MacLaughlin acknowledged that his initial ruling was ambiguous and said the discrimination claims would have to be retried, because jurors awarded the $5 million for emotional distress based, to some extent, on their erroneous conclusion that Simers had been forced out.
The judge, who also ordered a retrial on the constructive termination claim, said he would reissue his written ruling Tuesday, adding language to clarify his decision on the damages for emotional distress.
Simers could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Carney Shegerian, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There was more than a little legal punditry before today expressing doubt that Simers would retain all of the $7.1 million he was awarded by the jury in November, but this ruling seems to throw out the entire guts of his case. Simers wasn't fired by the Times or in some eyes even clearly demoted, but he did come under more pressure from his bosses over the tone and content of his sports columns. Simers eventually resigned from the Times and took a job writing a sports column for the rival Register in Orange County, then in 2014 retired from the Register.