In this edition of Litigation Roundup, a Dallas lawyer secures a $29 million jury verdict in a talc case and the Texas attorney general gets a deadline to respond to a request from whistleblowers to reinstate their case pending before the Texas Supreme Court.
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Northern District of Texas
Omni Hotels Hit with $25M Verdict in Sex Discrimination Suit
The former director of food and beverage for Omni Hotels was recently awarded $25.1 million by a federal jury in a sex discrimination lawsuit.
The jury heard three days of testimony before beginning deliberations March 9. The jury found that Sarah Lindsley, who worked at hotels in Corpus Christi and Tucson, Arizona, had shown she was paid less than the prior director of food and beverage, who was male, and that she was only paid less because of her sex.
For past pain and suffering the jury awarded Lindsley $100,000 and walloped TRT Holdings, a private company that owns the Omni Hotel chain, with $25 million in punitive damages, according to court documents.
Final judgment had not yet been entered Monday afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr presided over the trial. Lindsley filed the lawsuit in October 2017.
Lindsley is represented by Jay Ellwanger, David Henderson and Holt Lackey of Ellwanger Law and James A. Vagnini, Monica Hincken and Robert J. Valli Jr. of Valli Kane & Vagnini.
TRT is represented by Michael Hudlow Jr. and R. Clay Hoblit of Hoblit Darling Ralls Hernandez & Hudlow.
The case number is 3:17-cv-02942.
Receiver Can Continue $12M Clawback Effort in $185M Ponzi Case
U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr has sided with court-appointed receiver Kelly Crawford and agreed he can proceed in his efforts to claw back $12 million from brokers who allegedly directed more than 1,600 retirees into a precious metals Ponzi scheme.
Judge Starr on Wednesday denied three motions to dismiss — filed by 10 defendants — and found Crawford had adequately pled that the brokers benefited from the scheme even if they didn’t know it was fraudulent.
The defendants who sought dismissal are Bearhunter LLC, David Bleeden, Randal Kohl, The Voice, XAN LLC, Midwood Capital, Walter Vera, Verastan Group, David Wolan and Harper Metals Group.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and 30 states filed this suit in 2020, alleging LA-based precious metals dealers Lucas Asher and Simon Batashvili perpetrated a nationwide scheme that defrauded the elderly investors out of $185 million by convincing them to buy fraudulently inflated gold and silver bullion.
Crawford is represented by Peter C. Lewis and David Wills of Scheef & Stone and Charlene C. Koonce of Brown Fox.
The defendants are represented by Jason C. Moreau and John A. Sten of Armstrong Teasdale, Daniel A. Cook of Loudermilk Law, Michael S. Alfred of VerisLaw.
The case number is 3:21-cv-02181.
Middle District of Louisiana
Exxon Mobil Readies to Fight EEOC Noose Suit
Exxon Mobil Chemical Corporation is gearing up for a court battle in Louisiana after the EEOC recently filed suit claiming the company failed to protect a Black employee from harassment after nooses were discovered at its Baton Rouge chemical plant.
The lawsuit, filed March 3, has not yet been answered by Exxon Mobil. Company spokesman Todd Spitler told The Lawbook that Exxon Mobil disagrees with the EEOC’s version of events and is prepared to “vigorously defend” itself in court.
“We thoroughly investigated each of these incidents,” he said. “In all cases, law enforcement was notified and asked to independently investigate. We took prompt and decisive actions, and those contracts were told to never return to our facility.”
The EEOC alleges that when the employee reported finding the noose in January 2020, Exxon Mobil was already aware that three other nooses had been found at the Baton Rouge facility and investigated “some but not all of the prior incidents and failed to take measures reasonably calculated to end the harassment.”
A fifth noose was found and reported by an employee in December 2020, according to the government. This lawsuit was filed after a conciliation process failed, the EEOC said.
The EEOC is represented by its own Elizabeth Joanne Owen, Andrew Burke Kingsley and Peter Franklin Theis.
Counsel has not yet appeared for Exxon.
The case number is 3:23-cv-00159.
Richland County Circuit Court – South Carolina
Dallas Attorney Gets $29.1M Win in Talc Case
A jury in South Carolina has determined talc supplier Whittaker Clark & Daniels owes a woman who contracted mesothelioma $29.1 million in damages.
The verdict in favor of Sarah Plant, 36, was returned March 3. Dallas-based Mary Kay and Color Techniques were dropped from the suit midtrial after confidential settlements were reached with Plant. Plant also reached settlements with Avon and Colgate prior to trial.
Jessica Dean of Dean Omar Branham Shirley represented Plant.
“I cannot tell you how important it was for Sarah to be there in that courtroom and hear the jury say those people are the reason you have cancer,” Dean said in a statement. “I appreciate that the jury heard our case and reached the proper conclusion.”
The jury awarded plant $20 million for pain and suffering, $5 million for loss of consortium and about $4.1 million for past and future medical expenses.
Plant is also represented by Rachel Gross, Mark Buha and Ben Braly of Dean Omar Branham Shirley and Theile McVey of Kassel McVey.
Whittaker Clark & Daniels are represented by Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann.
The case number is 2022CP4001265.
Texas Supreme Court
OAG Must Respond to Whistleblowers by Monday
The state’s high court is asking the Office of the Attorney General to respond by March 20 to a request from the whistleblowers who are suing him to lift an abatement in their lawsuit after a $3.3 million settlement agreement hit a snag.
Last week, the whistleblowers — James Blake Brickman, J. Mark Penley, David Maxwell and Ryan Vassar — told the court that OAG was refusing to include in a formal agreement that the Legislature must approve their proposed settlement before the current legislative session ends in May.
The four former aides, who allege they were fired in retaliation for reporting to the FBI and Texas Rangers their belief that Ken Paxton was abusing the power of his office to benefit campaign donor Nate Paul, had requested the abatement in the case in February, noting the $3.3 million settlement agreement.
But in the March 8 motion they told the court if the case remains abated OAG would reap “all the benefits of a settlement, and respondents achieve none.”
“In oral communications with respondents, OAG contends that it has maneuvered respondents into a gotcha position. If funding approval is not achieved this session, OAG says the case should remain abated until the 89th Legislature considers it in 2025,” the whistleblowers argue. “And if that Legislature refuses to approve it, OAG says the abatement should remain in place until the following session. And so on in perpetuity. OAG tells respondents the case will never resume; they have given up their claims forever, even if legislative approval is not forthcoming.”
James Blake Brickman is represented by Thomas A. Nesbitt and William T. Palmer of DeShazo & Nesbitt.
J. Mark Penley is represented by Don Tittle and Roger Topham of Law Offices of Don Tittle.
David Maxwell is represented by T.J. Turner of Cain & Skarnulis.
Ryan Vassar is represented by Joseph R. Knight of Ewell Brown Blanke & Knight.
OAG is represented by solicitor general Judd E. Stone II, Lanora C. Pettit and William F. Cole of the Office of the Solicitor General and William S. Helfand and Sean O’Neal Braun of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith.
The case number is 21-1027.