Staples Still in $16M Pickle Over Age Claims of Pepper Picker

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By Patrick Dorrian

Aug. 17 — The California Supreme Court denied Staples Inc.'s request for review of a trial court’s $16.3 million age discrimination award to a physical plant manager fired at age 64 for alleged theft of a bell pepper ( Nickel v. Staples Contract & Commercial, Inc. , 2016 BL 262664, Cal., No. S235680, 8/10/16 ).

The state high court’s Aug. 10 rejection of a petition for review filed by Staples and subsidiary Staples Contract & Commercial Inc. leaves in place an intermediate appeals court’s May ruling that found a jury’s verdict in favor of Bobby Dean Nickel was supported by substantial evidence.

The evidence included statements by Nickel’s manager to other managers that they should “take a closer look at the older people” and “write them up and get rid of them” unless they were top performers, the appeals court said.

Nickel was fired in 2011 for allegedly stealing a bell pepper. According to Nickel, the bell pepper was part of a salad that fell out of a cafeteria refrigerator he was cleaning after hours, and he decided to eat the pepper while throwing out the salad.

The jury originally awarded Nickel more than $26 million in February 2014, but that award was reduced by the trial judge to $16.3 million.

The judge struck the jury’s $9.8 million punitive damages award against Staples Inc., but left in place jury awards of $13 million against Staples Contract & Commercial and $3.3 million in compensatory damages against the parent and subsidiary, jointly, according to the appeals court.

Shegerian & Associates Inc. represented Nickel. Sidley & Austin LLP and Littler Mendelson PC represented the companies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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