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July 2016

Los Angeles Team Wins Defense Verdict Against David deRubertis in Employment Case Involving Age Discrimination and Defamation

Gordon & Rees Los Angeles employment team’s senior partner Stephen Ronk, partner Anthony Bellone, associate Sat Sang Khalsa, and paralegal Marita Navarro obtained a complete defense verdict July 11 against a Los Angeles employment attorney David deRubertis in a single-plaintiff employment case after two weeks of jury trial.

The plaintiff, a 63-year old VP of Sales, and 12-year employee, of an aviation overhaul company, alleged that he was fired as a result of age discrimination and malicious defamation by being terminated for making a threat of violence against a coworker. The plaintiff also alleged that as a result of the defamation, his reputation was destroyed and he has been unable to obtain subsequent employment.

The facts of the case involved an argument between the plaintiff and a co-worker. During the argument the plaintiff threatened the co-worker by telling him he was going to “kick his ass.” The coworker reported the incident to their management in Michigan. After the incident was reported, management decided to terminate the plaintiff before speaking to him about the incident. Management chose to act on the complaint by the coworker without further investigation.

At trial, the plaintiff denied making the threat and contended that the real reason for his termination was the General Manager who made the decision to terminate his employment did so with malice as the plaintiff had made a number of complaints about workplace safety issues and disagreed with the General Manager on a number of decisions regarding running the business. The plaintiff also claimed that he was terminated due to his age. In addition, the plaintiff claimed that the qualified privilege under Civil Code Section 47(c) was inapplicable because the defamatory statements were made with actual malice or without reasonable grounds to believe they were true.

At trial, the defense demonstrated there was no evidence of age discrimination, and the focus of the case became the plaintiff’s malicious termination by defamation claim. The defense focused on the fact that the alleged defamatory statements were true and had not been made maliciously. The plaintiff attempted to bring other workplace history of disagreements with management in an effort to show animosity and ill will towards him in order to defeat the qualified privilege. The plaintiff attempted to portray the defamatory statements as ruining his sterling reputation after 30 years in the aviation industry.

After the plaintiff opened the door to his reputation, the defense introduced a prior felony conviction for trafficking in counterfeit helicopter parts. In a courtroom demonstration, the defense Googled the plaintiff’s name for the jury and introduced the first returned entry which was a Los Angeles Times article laying out in detail the felony charges and the counterfeit parts scheme perpetrated by the plaintiff and the resulting felony conviction. The defense argued that this information was readily available to anyone in the aviation repair industry and reflected his true reputation which had not been damaged by the defendants.

The jury deliberated for two hours and 50 minutes and reached a defense verdict on all claims.

Anthony J. Bellone
Sat Sang S. Khalsa
Stephen E. Ronk