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As Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s lawyers gear up for a gender discrimination class action scheduled to begin next year, Alameda County jurors dealt the lab a $1 million blow in a related case on Monday. Jurors awarded former lab worker Dee Kotla $325,000 in economic damages and $675,000 for emotional distress. Kotla was fired after she testified on behalf of Kim Norman, a woman who Kotla supervised and who sued a male lab employee for sexual harassment in 1994. The lab was a named defendant in Norman’s suit, too. “The people who [Kotla] complained to” about Norman’s problems “were ultimately involved in her termination,” said J. Gary Gwilliam, who, along with co-counsel Jan Nielsen, represented Kotla. Their Oakland, Calif., firm, Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer also represented Norman and is part of the plaintiffs’ legal team in the pay discrimination suit. Kotla alleged that the lab initiated an investigation into her phone and computer use after she gave testimony at a deposition that bolstered Norman’s claim that she was sexually harassed by a co-worker for two years. Norman’s suit ultimately settled, but the lab fired Kotla on Feb. 20, 1997. After the lab fired her, Kotla attempted to commit suicide by taking a large dose of Prozac and was admitted into a psychiatric hospital, her lawyers say. Kotla filed Kotla v. Regents of the University of California, V014799-8, in February 1998. The University of California manages the lab, located in Livermore, Calif., for the Department of Energy. The laboratory’s attorneys argued that Kotla was fired after officials discovered that she was using her computer and telephone for unauthorized purposes. The lab was represented by Littler Mendelson’s Eric Grover and Theodora Lee as well as in-house counsel Kathryn Rauhut. Grover referred calls to the lab’s spokeswoman, Susan Houghton. Houghton said the attorneys are still weighing whether to appeal the verdict. She noted that the jury deliberated seven days and split 9-3 on some issues, which she said shows that the jurors didn’t totally agree with Kotla’s allegations. Plus, Kotla admitted that she destroyed computer files after the lab began to investigate her conduct, Houghton said. “She was operating a business at the same time that she was working at the laboratory,” said Houghton. The Alameda County decision is the first time in recent memory that a jury has ruled against the lab, she added. Nielsen, a Gwilliam Ivary associate who worked on the case, called Houghton’s claim “laughable.” The lab began sifting through Kotla’s computer files and phone records shortly after she testified, he said. Kotla made several local calls and converted a computer disk, with her supervisor’s permission, for a friend, he added. In a statement, Kotla said that she was gratified by the jury’s verdict. “After five long years of litigation I feel that I have been vindicated by this jury. I am hopeful that this verdict will put an end to this type of conduct at the Laboratory.” Kotla is one of an estimated 5,000 former and current female lab workers who are part of a class action scheduled to go to trial in February 2003. In Singleton v. Regents of the University of California, 807233-1, the plaintiffs allege that women have been paid less than male counterparts and have been passed over for promotions for years. The suit had its origins 14 years ago, when lead plaintiff Mary Singleton, a lab chemist, went to management — humming “We Shall Overcome” — with a salary study showing the pay gap. At one point the plaintiffs’ attorneys — which also include lawyers from James Sturdevant’s San Francisco firm and from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice — estimated that up to 10,000 women were in the class. Alameda County, Calif., Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw later ruled that statute of limitations requirements excluded former female employees who worked at the lab prior to 1995. The plaintiffs anticipate that the lab’s attorneys will argue several motions before trial, including one to decertify the class, said Mark Johnson, an attorney at Sturdevant’s firm. That motion is scheduled to be heard on July 26, he said.

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