The long-running legal battle between the Los Angeles Times and former sports columnist T.J. Simers closed its latest chapter Monday when a jury in Los Angeles awarded him $15.4 million in damages over the age- and disability-discrimination lawsuit he filed in 2013.
That year, Simers suffered what was then diagnosed as a mini-stroke while covering spring training in Arizona; eventually it was determined he has complex migraine syndrome. After his medical incident, Simers claimed the Times cut his thrice-weekly column down to two, citing several that were “poorly written or reflected poorly” on the newspaper, and began giving his columns scrutiny that had never been given before. He then was suspended with pay in June 2013 over a video featuring Simers, his daughter and former Lakers player Dwight Howard that briefly was posted to the newspaper’s website.
The Times said Simers failed to disclose his business relationship with the producer of the video, which allegedly was a promotion for a proposed television show based on Simers’s life. The columnist countered that the project was dead by the time the video was posted and that he had no business relationship with the producer’s company. After an investigation, the Times took away Simers’s column and demoted him to reporter, though he would keep the same pay and benefits. The paper did offer to restore Simers’s column if he signed a one-year contract extension and agreed to abide by its ethics guidelines. Instead, Simers left for the rival Orange County Register in September 2013 and filed his lawsuit against the Times the next month, alleging that the paper had created working conditions designed to force him out and that it had discriminated against him because of his age and disability.
Simers, who is now 69, lasted less than a year at the Register before taking a buyout in 2014 and retiring.
In 2015, a jury agreed with Simers’s argument and awarded him $7.1 million in economic and noneconomic damages. Both sides appealed the award, Simers because it was less than the $12.1 million he originally sought. The judge in the case eventually voided much of the judgment but last year an appeals court sent the case back to the damages phase to be retried, agreeing that Simers had been subject to age and disability discrimination.
Nick Rowley, an attorney who helped handle the damages retrial for Simers, said the paper will owe him more than $22 million because of prejudgment interest and attorney’s fees.
“It is incredibly gratifying for Simers and those in similar situations to see the court vindicated his claims of age and disability discrimination,” Carney Shegerian, one of Simers’s attorneys, said in a statement Monday.
In a statement, a Times spokeswoman called the award “unreasonable” and said Times officials are “currently evaluating our legal options.”
Simers worked at the Times from 1990 to 2013 and had been a sports columnist for more than a decade. He was earning $234,000 per year when he left the paper.
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