New Jersey Verdicts

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Worker argued apartment complex fired him for disability

Amount:

$725,016

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

New Jersey

Venue:

Ocean County

Court:

Ocean County Superior Court

Case Type:

Employment – Retaliation; Workers’ Compensation; Employment – Wrongful Termination, Failure to Accommodate, Disability Discrimination

Case Name:

Joseph Lach v. Briar Hill at Manchester, Philip Celler and Joseph Celler,
No. OCN-L-2057-15

Date:

March 20, 2018

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Joseph Lach (Male, 60 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Justin D. Burns;
McMoran, O’Connor, Bramley & Burns, P.C.;
Wall Township,
NJ,
for
Joseph Lach ■ Bruce P. McMoran;
McMoran, O¿Connor, Bramley & Burns, P.C.;
Wall Township,
NJ,
for
Joseph Lach

Plaintiff Expert(s):

James DiGabriele; PhD/DPS, CPA/ABV/CFF; Lost Earnings; Fairfield,
NJ called by:
Justin D. Burns, Bruce P. McMoran

Defendant(s):

Joseph Celler, 

Philip Celler, 

Briar Hill at Manchester

Defense Attorney(s):

Michael J. Deem;
R.C. Shea & Associates;
Toms River,
NJ,
for
Joseph Celler, Philip Celler, Briar Hill at Manchester ■ Richard B. Celler;
Richard Celler Legal, P.A.;
Davie,
FL,
for
Joseph Celler, Philip Celler, Briar Hill at Manchester

Facts:

On May 13, 2015, plaintiff Joseph Lach, 60, received a letter from his employer stating that he was terminated from his job as a maintenance technician at the 344-unit apartment complex Briar Hill at Manchester, in Manchester Township. About three weeks earlier, Lach had taken disability leave. He had injured his left rotator cuff while cleaning out an apartment. Afterward, he had reported his injury to one his employers, Philip Celler, who told him he did not need to fill out any workers’ compensation forms and to go back to work. On April 23, 2015, Lach had arthroscopic surgery. About a week after surgery, Lach claimed, he had reminded Celler that he would need four to six weeks to recover. On May 7, according to Lach, he told Celler that according to his surgeon, he could return to work at the end of May, which would have made his absence a total of five weeks. Celler approved the five-week leave request. On May 13, Lach was let go from his job. Lach sued his employers, Joseph and Philip Celler, and the company that ran the building, Briar Hill at Manchester. Philip Celler was a partial owner of Briar Hill and also its managing partner. Joseph Celler was dismissed after it was determined that he had not had a part in terminating Lach. Lach alleged Philip Celler and Briar Hill violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by failing to accommodate his disability, unlawfully discharging him because of a disability, and aiding and abetting disability discrimination. He also alleged Briar Hill violated public policy by firing him for attempting to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. The defense counsel contended that Lach’s termination was lawful, because the building needed someone for repair work immediately and could not wait another two weeks for Lach to return. A temporary replacement could not be found, so they fired Lach in order to hire someone in a permanent role.

Injury:

Lach was unemployed for 10 months. He found a job making less than he did at Briar Hill. An expert in lost wages testified that Lach was out $125,127, the difference between salaries at the two jobs over the following few years Lach plans to work until he retires. When he was between jobs, Lach said, he suffered from depression, stress and anxiety but did not seek treatment. Lach sought damages for emotional distress and lost wages and also sought punitive damages. The defense counsel contended that Lach’s expert’s estimate on lost wages was overstated, because he calculated it using national unemployment rate data instead of New Jersey’s rate and a model that was criticized in at least one journal of economics.

Result:

The jury found that Lach was wrongfully terminated, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The jury awarded Lach $725,016 in damages, including $500,016 in punitive damages against Philip Celler and Briar Hill, which was uninsured.

Joseph Lach: $500,016 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $125,000 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability; $100,000 Personal Injury: emotional distress

Trial Information:

Judge:

Craig Wellerson

Demand:

$950.000

Offer:

None

Trial Length:

5
 days

Trial Deliberations:

45
 minutes

Jury Vote:

7-0

Jury Composition:

4 male/ 3 female

Post Trial:

The plaintiff is seeking more than $400,000 in attorneys’ fees, recoverable under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls.