COSTA MESA, Calif., February 18, 2014 – Led by Partner Edson McClellan, the Employment and Labor Department at Rutan & Tucker, LLP, Orange County’s largest full-service law firm, continues its string of trial victories with a recent win in U.S. District Court, Central District of California.
In the bench trial held before Judge John A. Kronstadt, McClellan and associate Joe Naddour prevailed for firm client Tofasco of America, Inc., a La Verne, California-based company that provides services to Chinese manufacturers doing business in Western markets. Following his termination, the plaintiff in the case, who had been an engineer with Tofasco, rejected the company’s severance offer and instead filed a lawsuit for age discrimination, wrongful termination, harassment, and other claims, asserting that he was terminated and harassed because he was 64 years old.
Lead counsel McClellan argued that Tofasco terminated the plaintiff for legitimate performance and business reasons, and that the company did not create a hostile work environment. Tofasco presented evidence showing that of the employees terminated due to the economic downturn, the average age was 40.54, as compared to those who remained, whose average age was 41.22.
On December 30, 2013, the Court issued its Memorandum of Decision, holding that the plaintiff had not met his burden of proving that he was terminated because of his age or for any reason that violated public policy, and that he had not met his burden of proving that he was unlawfully harassed. Judgment was entered in Tofasco’s favor on January 31, 2014.
In October 2013, McClellan and associate Kenne Zielinski obtained a complete trial victory for clients USASIA International, a real estate investment company, and A.R. Super Market, one of the largest Korean super markets in Southern California. The plaintiff in this case sued the two companies, along with his former direct employer Sang Wan Farms, for wrongful termination, unpaid wages, meal break penalties, wrongful eviction, and other claims.
The plaintiff had supervised a small group of immigrant farm workers employed by Sang Wan Farms, which leased land from USASIA International and would occasionally sell its vegetables to A.R. Super Market. The plaintiff alleged that Rutan’s clients exercised sufficient control over him to deem them joint employers along with Sang Wan Farms. He alternatively alleged that farm owner Sang Wan Lee worked as an unlicensed farm labor contractor for USASIA and A.R. Super Market pursuant to California’s farm labor contractor laws, making them strictly liable for the unpaid wages and other claims.
In October 2013, after three years of litigation, the parties conducted a two-week bench trial in front of Judge Linda Marks in Orange County Superior Court. The Rutan attorneys presented evidence showing their clients’ lack of control over the plaintiff and the farm’s operations, and that Sang Wan Farms operated as an independent farm for its own benefit.
At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case-in-chief, McClellan made an oral motion for judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 631.8 as to all eleven causes of action of the plaintiff’s operative complaint. The Court granted the Motion in its entirety, finding that the plaintiff had not carried his burden of proving that Sang Wan Lee worked as a farm labor contractor for USASIA and A.R. Super Market, or that the defendants were joint employers.
In another recent trial victory, Rutan Partner Richard Howell and McClellan successfully represented at trial Affordable Portables, Inc., an authorized AT&T retailer, after its former president sued for wrongful termination, contending that he was terminated in retaliation for his complaints as a whistleblower. He also sued for unpaid compensation, alleging that he was not paid profit sharing bonuses owed to him.
Affordable Portables cross complained, alleging the plaintiff had not re-paid a $900,000 promissory note. The plaintiff, in turn, countered that he had been fully released from his obligations under the promissory note pursuant to a prior release agreement. In April 2012, the parties conducted a two-week bench trial before Judge Michael Brenner in Orange County Superior Court. The Rutan attorneys presented evidence establishing that the plaintiff had voluntarily resigned his employment for reasons unrelated to his alleged whistleblowing. They also presented evidence, largely through expert testimony, that Affordable Portables had paid all profit sharing bonuses owed to the plaintiff. Further, they presented evidence that the alleged release agreement, purporting to release the plaintiff from the promissory note, was a forgery.
At the conclusion of trial, the Court found in favor of Rutan’s client, Affordable Portables, on the wrongful termination claim, and that the plaintiff was entitled only to a small fraction of the bonuses he sought. The Court also found in favor of Affordable Portables on the cross-claim for breach of the promissory note, holding the evidence insufficient that the note had been released. The Court entered judgment in favor of Affordable Portables for $1.2 million plus its attorneys’ fees.
Rutan’s Managing Partner Steve Nichols praised Rutan’s Employment and Labor Department on its successes: “At Rutan we pride ourselves on our ability to lead our clients to victory at trial when a case cannot be reasonably settled. We are trial attorneys – not just litigators. Our Employment and Labor Department continues to demonstrate its commitment to this principle through its excellence at trial and its impeccable track record.”
About Rutan & Tucker LLP
Rutan & Tucker is California’s largest full-service law firm headquartered in Orange County, California with offices in Costa Mesa and Palo Alto. Primary practice areas include business and real estate litigation, corporate and securities law, labor and employment law, intellectual property, real estate, municipal and government agency law, land use law, bankruptcy, condemnation and property valuation, environmental law, and taxation and estate planning. Detailed information about the firm is available at www.rutan.com.