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April 2016

Orange County and Los Angeles Offices Obtain Affirmation of Verdict in Appeal of 2014 Employment Case

Gordon & Rees Orange County partner Stephanie Alexander successfully handled the appeal of a verdict and judgment obtained by the firm in June 2014 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The verdict and judgment in favor of the firm’s client, a private security company, was obtained by Los Angeles partner Stephen Ronk and Los Angeles senior counsel Michelle Steinhardt following a one-week trial. In reaching a verdict for the defense on the two claims at issue, the jury found that the plaintiff, a private security guard, did not prove he was subject to retaliation for complaining about the use of zone patrol officers to cover absent officers in manning at fixed posts, and that he was terminated for the valid reasons of performance deficiencies and for engaging in conduct that was a conflict of interest (soliciting his subordinate officers to work for another security company he was affiliated with). One of the trial highlights was when the plaintiff’s former supervisor took the stand and testified that he, the supervisor, completed and backdated positive performance evaluation forms for the plaintiff, at the plaintiff’s request, after the plaintiff’s termination, when neither the plaintiff nor the supervisor were employed by the defendant. This not only impeached Plaintiff’s claim that he was a good performer during his employment, but also demonstrated that Plaintiff was attempting to offer false evidence and that he lacked credibility in general.   

On appeal, Plaintiff claimed that there was error in the special instructions and special verdict form, and that there was error in the exclusion of a witness Plaintiff had not identified in his discovery responses. In response, Gordon & Rees argued that there was no error in either the instructions and, even if there was, Plaintiff could not demonstrate that the error was prejudicial based on the substantial evidence regarding the grounds for his termination. Gordon & Rees also argued that there was no error in the verdict form, and that Plaintiff was precluded from asserting error in any event because he invited the error by proposing the form of the verdict that was used. Finally, Gordon & Rees argued that the witness, who had not been identified in discovery by Plaintiff as someone he complained to, was properly excluded, and if the exclusion of the witness was in error, it was a harmless error because the Plaintiff offered no testimony in either discovery or at trial that he had complained to this witness. 

In its Opinion, Division Three of the Second Appellate District affirmed the judgment in all respects. The Court of Appeals agreed with Gordon & Rees that there was no error in either the jury instructions or the special verdict and, if there were error, such error was harmless. Furthermore, the Court held that while it was improper to exclude the witness from testifying, such error was harmless because there was no evidence that Plaintiff complained to this particular witness and it was not likely the exclusion of the witness would have resulted in a finding for the Plaintiff.

Stephen E. Ronk