A judge has overturned a jury's award of nearly $15.5 million to a former sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times who said he was forced out of his job because of age and health discrimination.
Superior Court Judge William A. MacLaughlin said the amount was not justified because of misconduct by the plaintiff’s attorneys and that the award was excessive, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
MacLaughlin ordered a new trial to determine what damages T.J. Simers should receive. Simers said he was demoted in 2013 from columnist to a reporter once he developed health problems.
“Plaintiff is entitled to substantial compensation, but the damages awarded by the jury are excessive and cannot be justified by the evidence,” the judge ruled.
Simers’ attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment by the newspaper.
It would be the third time a jury must consider the sole issue of damages in the case. An appeals court has already upheld a verdict that Simers suffered age and disability discrimination at the newspaper.
In the most recent case, a jury in August awarded Simers $15.4 million in damages. But in his Dec. 23 ruling, MacLaughlin overturned the award.
Specifically, the judge faulted Simers' attorneys for presenting evidence about the newspaper’s finances to jurors. MacLaughlin said information about the paper’s finances should not have been presented to jurors or considered when determining damages.
Simers worked at the Times from 1990 to 2013 and was a sports columnist there for more than a decade, making $234,000 per year. But he claimed the Times cut back his column and otherwise tried to pressure him to leave after he suffered what was believed to be a mini-stroke while covering the Los Angeles Dodgers' and Anaheim Angels' spring training.
He was later diagnosed with complex migraine syndrome.
The Times said Simers got into trouble for an ethics breach involving a video that was briefly posted to the newspaper's website. The video featured Simers, his daughter and former Laker Dwight Howard.
Times editors said he failed to disclose his business relationship with the producer of the video, which allegedly was a promotion for a proposed TV comedy loosely based on Simers' life. Simers testified that at that point the project had died and he had no business relationship with the producer's company.
Simers was suspended with pay and the Times began an investigation. In August 2013, Simers was told he would lose his column and become a reporter but instead he was offered a one-year contract for a column.
However, Simers resigned the next month. He joined the Orange County Register as a columnist but retired in 2014 after less than a year.