Sacramento jurors awarded more than $24 million to a former U.S. Bank executive who claimed he was slandered by a junior employee and unfairly fired a day before he was to qualify for a six-figure performance bonus.
Jurors awarded the multimillion-dollar penalty in two phases, granting nearly $8.7 million in compensatory damages and, in a 9-3 decision Thursday morning before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger, another $15.6 million in punitive damages on allegations of slander, libel, wrongful termination and breach of good faith.
Timothy M. King was a 26-year veteran of the banking conglomerate, his last six in its Sacramento office, in 2012, when attorneys alleged a female subordinate in fear of losing her job accused King of harassing and stalking her and of having ties to organized crime.
King’s attorneys argued the allegations quickly gained momentum, ultimately leading to King’s firing in December 2012. Attorneys argued that officials at the banking conglomerate rushed through a probe into the allegations and King’s dismissal to avoid paying his 2012 performance bonus.
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Plaintiff’s attorney Christopher Whelan said after jurors’ verdict on punitive damages that U.S. Bank investigators and later human resources personnel took the allegations as fact without speaking to King, sacking the executive “based upon patently false accusations, and, at best, an intentionally recklessly and incomplete investigation.”
“They didn’t interview him,” Whelan said. “They didn’t know if he had witnesses to refute the claims, and they said, ‘We don’t care.’ ”
Jurors on Thursday agreed with King’s attorneys, delivering the majority decision and saying U.S. Bank’s case against King was undone by rumor, seemingly ad hoc human resources policies and an incomplete investigation into the accusations against the executive.
“I felt there was a lot of gossip that didn’t have any truth to it. I didn’t find substantial evidence to support any of (the bank’s) statements,” said juror James Hall.
“A lot of us felt strongly that the investigation wasn’t done correctly. Why didn’t they ask for his side of the story?” said juror Rebecca Pisano. “You can’t make a decision based on a rumor out in the hallway. These were rumors taken as facts.”
Plaintiff’s co-counsel Brian Whelan called the monthlong trial “a hard fight, a long battle,” but said he anticipated “many more hurdles to clear,” including inevitable appeals and post-trial motions by U.S. Bank contesting the large award.
“We are very disappointed in the jury’s decision today and will appeal,” said Cheryl U. Leamon, U.S. Bank vice president and corporate strategic planning manager, in a written statement. “U.S. Bank is committed to treating employees with respect and fairness throughout their employment. We will not comment further on the litigation.”