POG Founding Member Mark O’Donnell and Member Emma Gillespie returned the firm’s fourth defense victory in an employment case in King County, WA in July. The Plaintiff, a school district employee, claimed defamation against a co-worker and retaliation against the employer. The Plaintiff claimed that disciplinary action by the District retaliated against him by demoting him in the form of a demotion was retaliation for making complaints made by the Plaintiff about the entitlement to prevailing wages on several school district projects. The Plaintiff also claimed that the comments made about him by his co-worker were defamatory in nature. Prior to litigation, the Plaintiff appealed the proposed disciplinary action through the contractual agreements grievance process. He prevailed at arbitration, and was reinstated to his position. Following arbitration, the Plaintiff filed separate lawsuits against the co-worker and the District, which were then consolidated.
Prior to trial, the District moved for Summary Judgment. Four of the Plaintiff’s six causes of action were dismissed, including the cause of action for defamation against the co-worker. The case was unsuccessfully mediated, and the Plaintiff’s last demand before and during trial was $850,000.
The case was tried to a King County jury over a period of 9 days. At the conclusion of the Plaintiff’s case the District moved for a Directed Verdict, arguing that there was no cognizable legal cause of action because the Plaintiff remained employed by the District. The Court denied the motion. The jury returned a verdict of $500,000 in favor of the Plaintiff.
Following trial, the District filed three post-trial motions. The first motion was to renew the Motion for Directed Verdict, vacate the verdict, and dismiss the case. The second motion was to have the verdict set aside and a new trial ordered because the award was not supported by substantial evidence and was the result of passion or prejudice by the jury. The third motion was to reduce the amount of the jury’s award because of the lack of substantial evidence, and was the result of passion or prejudice by the jury. Following a hearing, the Court granted the District’s motion to set aside the verdict and dismiss the case. The trial Court agreed that absent statutory authority, Washington Law does not recognize a cause of action for retaliation unless the employee has been terminated. Thus, the award was vacated and set aside.
The case will be appealed by the Plaintiff. There is currently an appeal pending of the trial Court’s dismissal of the defamation claim against the co-worker.