Jury trashes garbage company that falsified evidence
Here's a quick tip on how not to get punished by a jury: Don't falsify evidence.
Evidence including a “smoking e-mail” has helped persuade a Cleveland jury to award a record $46.6 million to a former trash company manager who was fired after he refused to dismiss three employees, all of whom were about 60 years of age.
Ronald Luri, 55, alleged in his wrongful termination case that not only did Republic Services Co. (NYSE: RSG) retaliate against him for engaging in the “protected activity” of complying with age discrimination law, but it also blocked his efforts to find another job in the Cleveland area.
The jury award –- the largest in Ohio history -– includes $3.5 million in compensation for Luri's lost wages as general manager of Republic's Cleveland office and $43.1 million in punitive damages. “I stood up for the rights of my employees and I was penalized for it,” Luri told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer after the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas jury reached its verdict last week.
Jurors said the key evidence was an e-mail memo written by Luri's boss, Jim Bowen. A computer forensics expert testified that Bowen had post-dated the memo and added criticism of Luri's job performance two weeks after Luri filed the lawsuit in August 2007.
Trouble is, the punitive damages award is about 12 times the compensatory... so there's no way this will survive appeal. If this were just a run-of-the-mill wrongful termination suit, I might agree that 12 times is too high. But in this case, I don't think it is. First, the guy got fired because he refused to fire other employees just for being old. And second, I don't think a litigant who falsifies evidence should be entitled to very many protections in court. We'll see how it turns out.