Order In The Courtroom
May 25, 2009

 

A letter from the Clerk of the Court of Okmulgee County arrived saying I was being summoned for jury duty on March 3rd. Ended up on a civil case where a young man was terminated because he hired an attorney to handle his worker’s compensation claim when his employer violated state law and didn’t pay him 70% of his regular salary while he was disabled. All this transpired in 2003 and he just got his day in court. He was asking for back wages from the time he was terminated in September of 2003 until he found employment in late November although it was for less money that he had been making. And he was only making $8/hour at the job he was fired from!

Oklahoma is a right to work state. What that means is that you can be fired at any time for no reason and you have no recourse. That is only a tiny step above servitude. So, most employer’s and the managers that work for them here generally treat subordinates like Charlie Chaplin in Hard Times. There is one caveat to the law which prohibits terminating an employee who was injured on the job and draws worker’s compensation. What was so amazing about the case was that one of the interrogatories clearly showed that the company lied about the facts surrounding the case, specifically claiming the plaintiff had abandoned his job 6 months prior to his actual firing and while he was under medical care while on worker’s compensation. Further, they claimed that upon his return to work after medical release that he quit because he refused to work in a particular job; yet the company didn’t protest his filing for and receipt of unemployment benefits. Clearly violations of the termination law.

As unbelievable as it may sound I ended up being selected as the foreman and was able to persuade the two holdouts of the jury that the young man had a viable claim and pointed out, with the assistance of several other jurors who agreed with my view, the discrepancies in the defense’s case. Then we set about computing the damages. It was really funny to see my fellow jurors bewilderment on how to approach this issue. So I said that we had to set some parameters. I suggested that we could use his salary as reported to the State Unemployment Office as a base which was $18,839. I then divided the amount by 12 months ($1,533.17 or $1,533) and multiplied that by the last three months of 2003 and the first three months of 2009 ($9,198) and then added that amount to his cumulative salary for 2004 through 2008, a period of 5 years ($94,195) for a total of $103,393. I then deducted $387.00 for a two week job he held until he found a full time job. THEN, I calculated 70% of that amount, or $72,104.00 because when you receive unemployment in Oklahoma you get 70% of your salary. That was acceptable to the rest of the Jury and we awarded that amount as actual damages. We then added $18,839 as punitive damages and he received $90,943.00 to send a message to employers in Oklahoma as well as compensate the plaintiff for his diligence in pursuing his wrongful termination.

I gotta tell you, I felt really good about the outcome of the trial. It really grates me how employees are treated in Oklahoma. Maybe, just maybe this trial went a little way in correcting what I see as a gross injustice. It wasn’t changing the course of mighty rivers or bending steel in my bare hands, but, for a few minutes, I certainly felt like a masked marvel.

What was surreal about the trial was that the lawyer for the defendant looked exactly like the Ventriloquist from the original animated Bruce Timm Batman cartoon series. I swear to god! This man could have been the model for creating the character. It was eerie. He had this large case (one of those that are used to carry samples by some sales people) that contained reams of paper, but I kept expecting him to pull out Scarface with his tommy-gun and mow us all down in the jury box!

Glenn Moss
Born in 1952 (you do the math), making me one of the proverbial "old farts" involved in toys, comic books, and other juvenile activities that everyone said I should have outgrown decades ago. Fortunately, my wife of 36 years is an understanding soul. A firm believer in the philosophy of Groucho Marx, George Carlin, Robin Williams and Chris Rock. Am now indoctrinating my grandchildren to carry on so that when I finally fade away there will be another generation of odd neighbors who seemed nice and kept to themselves.
Read other articles by Glenn Moss.

 

 

 

17 Comments »

  • Daniel_Lioneye says:

    I live in VA which is a right to work state also, and while I can somewhat understand why they would create laws such as right to work, at the same time I can’t help but think of how easily it can be abused by someone with no scruples. I feel like there need to be more safeguards in place to protect such a law from abuses, as it seems to write anyone in a supervisory position a blank check to fire anyone, even if they simply don’t like them. I’ve had a manager threaten my job before if I didn’t drop everything and drive 30 minutes to my job to fill out a form they never told me was due that day, and as tempting as it was to tell them they could forget it, I felt like I had no choice because of laws such as right to work.

    • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

      Thanks so very much for your reply. It means a lot to me. I suppose it’s me because I’m an old fart, but working conditions in this country have deteriorated significantly in the last 30 years. I don’t know why companies even bother to print “employee handbooks” as they are all a farce. You should get a single piece of paper that says “We hate you. You hate us. Now, go to work.” At least it would be honesty.

      Glenn

  • Sconey says:

    Well Done Sir!

    • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

      Thank you, Sconey.

      When the judge read the verdict and the award amount, the young man actually cried and the company owner looked as though you couldn’t slide a piced of paper between his butt-cheeks…

      Glenn

  • Danny Cantina-Dan says:

    Sounds like a scene from “12 Angry Men!” Interesting story, Glenn.

    • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

      Cantina, if you are saying I look like Henry Fonda I’ll have to include you in my will!

      By the way, 12 Angry Men is one of my top 100 movies!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Glenn

  • Vader says:

    I love how you segued to Ventriloquist and Scarface :-)

    • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

      Vader,

      Honest to God, that attorney looked EXACTLY like the Ventriloquist! The minute I walked into the courtroom and saw him it was the first thing that came to mind! In fact, it was almost distracting.

      I think the guy knew that he was going to loose the case from the beginning, but I don’t believe he thought we would take the course we did.

      Thanks for the comment. I truly appreciate it.

      Glenn

      • Vader says:

        I know what that must have felt like for you. A few years ago, I took the family on a vacation and we ended up being in a group with a guy who looked exactly like Al from Toy Story (from Al’s Toy Barn). My kids and I were having the most difficult time trying not to burst out laughing because we were all thinking the same thing. We never had the chance to steal a photo but we still talk about that guy to this day.

        And by the way, nice to have you back on a more frequent basis :-)

        • Glenn Moss Glenn says:

          Oh man, that must have been crazy! I don’t know that I wouldn’t be able to just bust out laughing. At a minimum everyone would have thought I was suffering from alergies as tears would have been streaming from my eyes.

          Did you and kids make any one liner references to Toy Story II? You know, mentioning “monkey chow,” “ride like the wind, Bullseye,” or “there’s a snake in my boot?”

          • Vader says:

            We didn’t say anything while we were in the same vicinity as the gentleman. One word would have certainly started a chain reaction of unstoppable laughter (which surely would have bewildered and possibly worried the other tourists). We did, however, let it all out as soon as we left the spot. It was eerie and funny at the same time.

  • 70% for unemployment is a good number. It’s only 50% here in NC, also an at-will work state with few legal protections for workers. Of course, that won’t stop employers who let people go from coming up with a reason for the termination, all so they can contest unemployment claims. Tough economic times bring out the worst in people, I suppose. At any rate, thanks for sticking up for the little guy and helping him in his quest for justice.

    • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

      Caped,

      In trying to come up with some beginning point for the settlement I just grabbed the percentage the state uses to pay unemployment. Everyone on the jury was sitting around the table with the proverbial “deer in headlights” look and I thought that if I didn’t come up with something fast I would loose them. And while the total amount ended up being pretty significant, it was, in my humble opinion, reasonable considering the time it took to get to trial and fact that the company blatantly did the young man wrong.

      Thanks for you comments. I truly appreciate them.

      Glenn

      • Brainlock says:

        Sounds good to me, Glenn.
        Was there any particular reason this case was held up SIX YEARS? THAT is what sounds unreasonable to me.

        (my sister and I are also in the market for a good bounty hunter, if you know one! Even Misery can’t find the SOB, then decided that too much time had lapsed for the “minor” fraud they found and tried to pin on him.)

        • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

          I think that the length of time to trial was an attempt by the defendant to drag out the case in an attempt to get the young mad to give up. It isn’t fair, but that’s the way the law works here in Oklahoma. There were literally hundreds of pages of paperwork that was brought into the courtroom…

          The delay was a factor in our decision on the settlement. A payback, if you will, for the plaintiff’s dilligence.

          Soory, but I know bumpkis about bounty hunters.

          Glenn

  • Tanner says:

    As a resident of Oklahoma, thank you so much for writing this.

    • Glenn Moss Glenn Moss says:

      Tanner,

      Thanks for the comment. I truly appreciate it.

      I confess that I was very disappointed when the local newspaper didn’t have anything about the case. We have two pages of church news and sports for all the local schools, but nothing of substance like this. I suppose it can be chalked up to small town Oklahoma. But at least the plaintiff got his settlement!

      Glenn

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