Monday, August 7, 2006
Jury Awards Lawyer $1.1 Million in Wrongful Termination Suit
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury has awarded just under $1.1 million to attorney Warren Snider in his wrongful termination suit against the firm of Laquer Urban Clifford & Hodge LLP.
Snider, who worked an associate in Laquer Urban’s Pasadena office from 1991 to 2003, sued the firm in February 2005 alleging it fired him because treatments he underwent for his chronic liver disease required him to scale back his billable hours—to an average of 135-140 hours per month instead of the 150-hour average he would have needed to meet the firm’s annual billable requirement of 1,800 hours.
The case, which went before Judge Robert Hess at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, concluded last Tuesday with the 51-year-old attorney prevailing by a 9-3 jury vote on his wrongful termination and failure to accommodate claims.
The jury awarded Snider $989,886 in economic damages to cover his lost earnings from the time of his termination in September 2003 up to the time he turns 62, as well as $105,000 in damages for emotional distress.
Prior to trial, Laquer Urban rejected Snider’s offer to settle the case for $450,000 pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 998. The firm had offered to settle for $125,000, plaintiff’s counsel said.
Wilmer Harris of the Pasadena firm Schonbrun De Simone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, who represented Snider, said his client notified Laquer Urban on May 14, 2003 via email that he needed to undergo a 48-week course of therapy to treat his chronic liver disease. Snider subsequently began treatments with the antiviral drugs Interferon and Ribovirin, but continued to work and did not seek medical leave.
Four months later, at which point Snider had seven months left of treatment, partner Christopher Laquer fired Snider for insubordination, saying that he violated the firm’s vacation policy when he took a trip to Northern California to attend his father-in-law’s memorial service.
The termination was clearly pretextual, Harris told the MetNews.
“I think they worried that his illness was going to create a long-term problem for him to meet his obligations as an attorney,” he said. “Rather than wait to see the outcome of the treatment, they said, ‘Look, we just want to get rid of this guy’ and they found a reason to do so.”
In his 12-year work history with the firm, which largely included collection work on behalf of union trust funds, Snider received consistent raises and bonuses, no disciplinary write-ups, and was the only associate who met the billable hours requirement after the firm established it in June 2000, Harris added.
He said the firm failed to accommodate Snider’s requests to let him do the best he could through the course of his medical treatment, and that Snider—who is now clear of his disease and eager to return to the practice of law—felt vindicated by the verdict.
“My client and I hope this case sends a message that law firms are not above the law,” Harris said. When an associate needs an accommodation in the form of reduced billable hours, law firms have a duty to discuss the employee’s needs openly and make reasonable accommodations. This is not jut a law firm but a firm that does labor and employment law.”
Laquer Urban’s lead trial counsel, Martin Deniston of the Los Angeles office of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP, told the MetNews he could not comment about the case.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company