Fired employee wins defamation case. $4.9M.
Employer says manager was an at-will employee. Employee says his ex-boss branded him a thief.
- Case Name: James Jordan v. Wonderful Citrus Packing, LLC
- Court and Case Number: U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California / 1:18-CV-00401-AWU-SAB
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, October 10, 2019
- Date Action was Filed: Friday, March 23, 2018
- Type of Action: Defamation, Employment
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Senior District Judge Anthony W. Ishii
- Plaintiffs: James K. Jordan, 56.
- Defendants: Wonderful Citrus Packing, LLC
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $4,941,071
- Award as to each Defendant:
The jury concluded that “good cause” was not required to terminate the plaintiff, but awarded the plaintiff a total of $4,941,071 for his defamation claim damages.
- Punitive Damages:
Plaintiff claimed but was not awarded punitive damages.
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 4 weeks.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Marderosian & Cohen by Mick Marderosian and Heather Cohen, Fresno.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Roll Law Group by Michael Vasseghi, J.P. Pecht and Courtney Vaudreuil, Los Angeles.
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Randall Epperson, psychology, Modesto.
- Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Bradley Schyler, psychology, Fresno.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Rick Sarkisian, vocational rehabilitation, Fresno.
Stephanie Rizzardi, forensic economics, San Marino.
- Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Jubin Merati, forensic economics, Los Angeles.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
Plaintiff was the senior director of the northern farming division for defendant’s plant in Delano. Plaintiff was responsible for overseeing thousands of acres of citrus, including the production of the “Halo” brand Mandarin orange, which is the company's most noted product.
In November 2017, after almost 27 years of employment, plaintiff was terminated. Before he was informed of his termination, the company president issued two emails to 300-400 employees (total employees are 4000-5000). The first email indicated that plaintiff is "no longer with the company". The second email, issued 41 minutes later, described a number of activities, the company was investigating. Those activities included embezzlement and using inappropriate language. Plaintiff was not referenced by name in the second email.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That he was not an at-will employee and that his termination required "good cause" to terminate him. Secondly, that the president defamed him by falsely accusing him of being a thief, an allegation which has spread throughout the industry and and has prevented him from finding follow-up employment.
- Defendant's Contentions:
That plaintiff was an at-will employee who could be terminated without cause. That the second email was not defamatory because it did not mention plaintiff by name and was issued as part of normal business practice in protecting their assets and employees, thus entitling them to the conditional privilege known as the “common interest” privilege, requiring plaintiff to prove malice before the statement is considered defamatory.
Defendant further contended that plaintiff used offensive racial slurs and created a hostile work environment requiring immediate termination.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $482,114
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,958,957