(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this workplace discrimination/personal injury case and its proceedings.)
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Plaintiff was terminated from his employment with XYZ Security ( XYZ ), for sexual harassment, and thereafter sued XYZ for discrimination on the basis of gender and race, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and sued XYZ and the individual making the false allegations and those individuals charged with investigating those allegations for defamation.
Trial began in this matter on March 26, 2007, in the Sacramento County Superior Court. On April 10, 2007, after a more than two-week trial involving numerous witnesses and a relatively complicated set of jury instructions and special verdict forms, the case was submitted to the jury. The jury came back the next afternoon, April 11, 2007, with verdicts in all instances for defendants.
In speaking with approximately nine or ten of the jurors after the verdict was delivered, Plaintiffs counsel learned that the jury wanted to find for Plaintiff and against XYZ on the defamation claim, but they could not answer the first question on the special verdict forms with respect to defamation, “Yes.” The jurors asked Plaintiff’s counsel who had written the questions.
The court and counsel had reviewed the special verdict forms in chambers. After such review the court instructed defendants to revise the punitive damages instructions. The next day the court instructed defendants to reorder the special verdicts. Sometime after the initial review of the special verdict forms defendants revised the forms such that they did not reflect the law of defamation, did not track with the jury instructions and did not resemble the CACI special verdict forms on which they were based.
The first sentence of CACI forms VF-1704 (defamation per se) and VF-1705 (defamation per quod) is Did [name of defendant] make the following statement to [a person/persons] other than [name of plaintiff]? When counsel and the court reviewed the special verdict forms, they each said, Did XYZ Security, make the following statement to a person other than Bobby White? The relevant portion of the CACI instructions 1704 (defamation per se) and 1705 (defamation per quod) states that That [name of defendant] made [one or more of] the statement(s) to [a person/persons] other than [name of plaintiff].
By the time special verdict forms VF-1704 and VF-1705 reached the jury, the first question read: Did one or more officers, directors, or managing agents of XYZ Security, acting in a corporate capacity, make the following statement to a person other than Bobby White.
Believing that defendants had acted in good faith and in accordance with the court’s instructions, Plaintiff’s counsel stipulated to the revised special verdict forms, without taking the few minutes available to her to re-review the entire 35-page document.
Plaintiff’s counsel did not learn until after she spoke with members of the jury after the verdict was read was that (1) defendants had changed the wording of two of the special verdict forms after they were reviewed and approved, (2) after defendants made the revisions, neither form was as agreed to by parties the previous day, and (3) the forms as revised contained a gross misstatement of the law. Defendants never alerted Plaintiff’s counsel nor the court, as far as Plaintiff is aware, of the sweeping revisions they had made to the standard Plaintiff was held to prove his defamation claims.
Many members of the jury wanted to hold XYZ responsible for what it did to Plaintiff. The jury stayed and deliberated extra time to try to find a way to hold XYZ liable for what it had done to Mr. White, but they had heard no evidence in the trial that addressed the question, they did not find any guidance in the jury instructions given, and, in the end, they just could not find a way to answer yes to the first question posed in the special verdict forms with respect to defamation. (See Part 3 of 12.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.