Former Los Angeles Times sports columnist T.J. Simers can stop moping around the house and start showering and cursing again.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded the one-time highly-paid, 65-year-old curmudgeon $7.1 million after he sued his former employer for giving him a hard time following what was thought to be a mini-stroke on the job. Simers claimed age and disability discrimination and asked for $12.1 million after lowering his original $18-million bid.
“It seemed that they didn't deal with Mr. Simers in a proper manner,” foreman Orie McLemore told the Times. “How can you take someone who's been doing that well and then all of a sudden he's not up to par? I have got to feel there's something there.”
Simers was awarded $5 million for past and future emotional pain and suffering, $1.8 million for future economic damages and $330,000 for past lost wages. He did not receive any punitive damages.
The six-week trial featured testimony from relatives, a host of Times editors, sports celebrities like Tommy Lasorda and a psychologist who said Simers tested out as a paranoid personality. Simers, who made $234,000 a year, left the Times under fire in September 2013 to take a job as columnist for the Orange County Register.
The 23-year veteran of the Times took a paycut to $190,000, and then a buyout the next year. In between, he sued the Times.
Simers claimed he got in trouble with top management for refusing to back off the regular skewering of then-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, and other similar offenses. He said publisher Eddy Hartenstein told him to leave McCourt alone after meeting the Dodger owner in 2011.
Simers said the company cracked down on him after he had a physical breakdown in March 2013 while covering baseball spring training in Phoenix. He was ultimately diagnosed with complex migraine syndrome. The Times reduced his columns from three times a week to two, and visited an assortment of indignities upon him. After almost being busted down to regular reporter, Simers was offered a one-year contract as a columnist.
Instead, he left for the competitor to the south. And then he left them to retire. Simers’ wife testified that he acted like a broken man, listless and not eating right.
Times editors testified a big part of the problem with Simers was a video deal he was working on with basketball star Dwight Howard. They said it was unethical and unapproved. Simers denied both.
The masthead editors and his own sports editor were also a tad put off by the already-irascible Simers resisting, not always eloquently, the call to write for the web. Simers could be diffcult to work with.
The Times said it would appeal the jury’s verdict.