Middlebrooks v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA
$6.1 Million Verdict
Date of Verdict: Dec. 3.
Court and Case No.: U.S. Dist. Court, E.D. Pa. No. 2:17-cv-00412-MAK.
Judge: Mark A. Kearney.
Type of Action: Civil Rights, employment.
Injuries: Job discrimination.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Laura Mattiacci, Caren Gurmankin, Kevin Console and Ortal Mendelawe, Console Mattiacci Law, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Jennifer A. Ermilio and Larry J. Rappaport of Stevens and Lee, Philadelphia.
A federal jury in Pennsylvania has hit Israel-based drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals with a more than $6.1 million verdict over claims that a manager discriminated against an American employee.
A jury from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Monday awarded $1.16 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages to plaintiff Stephen Middlebrooks, who said his Israeli manager discriminated against him on the basis of age and American nationality.
Middlebrooks was represented by Laura Mattiacci of Console Mattiacci Law, along with assistance from attorneys Caren Gurmankin, Kevin Console and Ortal Mendelawe.
Although punitive damages are capped at $300,000 under Title VII, according to Mattiacci, the plaintiff is taking the position that the award should not be reduced because the full punitive damages award is available under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
According to Middlebrooks’ pretrial memo, he started working for Teva in 2001, when he was 44, as a facilities manager. The memo said he received consistently good reviews until he began working under Nir Aharoni, an Israeli, who was more than 12 years younger.
The memo said that Middlebrooks began working under Aharoni when the company globalized its facilities management function. According to the memo, when Aharoni first toured the facilities in America, he asked Middlebrooks how old he was and how long he planned to work for the company.
Middlebrooks received a lower rating than he ever had previously on his performance review, and he was not given an equity award. Instead, a younger employee was awarded the equity, the memo said. When Middlebrooks questioned Aharoni, Aharoni said the equity awards were “only for employees that will be with us for a long time.”
The memo also said that, beginning in June 2015, Middlebrooks and members of the group he led made complaints that Aharoni had discriminated and been hostile toward the American employees. Human relations conducted an internal review, but, despite findings of “perceived discrimination due to ethnic bias” and “disregard for law and statutes after being made aware of the impact,” Aharoni and his direct reports were not disciplined, the memo said.
Soon after Teva sent Aharoni the investigative report about Middlebrooks’ complaints, the defendants put Middlebrooks on a performance improvement plan. The plaintiff’s memo said Aharoni would not meet with Middlebrooks about his improvement plan until it was extended in mid-February 2016. Middlebrooks was fired at the end of that month and replaced by a man who was 21 years younger than he.
Teva’s version of the events differed significantly from the plaintiff’s.
In its pretrial memo, Teva contended that Aharoni had been impressed by Middlebrooks and selected him to head the North American Facilities Management Group, which was a “vastly expanded role.” The memo also said that some in the company voiced concerns about Middlebrooks being moved into the role. Teva argued that Middlebrooks had performed poorly in his new role.
Regarding the internal investigation, Teva said the investigator found that there was no “legally hostile work environment” but instead made a series of recommendations to improve the conditions, including cross-cultural training.
Teva’s memo also said Aharoni liked Middlebrooks personally and thought he could succeed in a different role at the company. The memo said Aharoni also gave Middlebrooks feedback on several occasions regarding his performance review, but Middlebrooks failed to meet the goals.
The memo also disputed alleged statements Aharoni made about military support the United States provided to Israel and a comment Aharoni allegedly made to another employee that “Israelis are not all a bunch of towel-headed camel jockeys.” The memo said the comments were not related to Middlebrooks performance and were mischaracterized.
“All of this reflects plaintiff’s ongoing pattern of exaggeration, operating on rumors and over-loyalty to his team,” Teva’s memo, filed by Stevens & Lee attorney Larry Rappoport, said.
A total of 13 witnesses testified at trial, and the jury deliberated for nine hours before handing up the verdict.
In an emailed statement, Mattiacci said, “It is a privilege representing hard working people like Steve Middlebrooks. He had the courage to complain when he believed that his civil rights were being violated and the jury’s verdict speaks to the reckless disregard the company showed to his right to not be retaliated against for speaking up.”
Rappoport did not return a message seeking comment.
—Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly