$6.6 million wrongful discharge punitive damages

UPS's Vice President and District Manager a “managing agent” under California law. In a wrongful termination case, a federal jury awarded punitive damages against UPS of $15.9 million, which the judge reduced to $6.6 million. The 9th Circuit affirmed, in an opinion which the court said is "not appropriate for publication." Marlo v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (9th Cir 04/23/2015).

Marlo had been involved in filing a class action suit which initially sought $400 million in class-wide damages. Vice President and District Manager Tim Robinson fired him.

On appeal, UPS argued against punitive damages on the ground that Robinson was not a "managing agent" under California law.

There was plenty of evidence that Robinson was a "managing agent."

  • Robinson was the highest-ranking supervisor in a 7,000-employee district that covered a vast geographic area from downtown Los Angeles to the inland deserts to California’s Central Coast.
  • Robinson's responsibilities included, in his own terms, “managing a complex business,” which required him “to talk about running the business every day.”
  • Robinson managed supervisors and employees in charge of the various departments in his territory, including operations, sales, marketing, engineering, automotive, finance and accounting, human resources, and labor relations.
  • "Robinson viewed part of his role as maintaining a company 'culture' — in essence, a company policy — of supervisors acting as 'owners.'" Marlo’s class-action lawsuit threatened to upend that culture.
  • "The jury could thus reasonably conclude that Robinson’s decision to terminate Marlo was a policymaking decision aimed at protecting the company 'culture.'"

$6.6 million is a lot. I assume the opinion was unpublished because UPS's arguments were so clearly unsupportable.