T.J. Simers, a well-known former sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is suing the Times for age and disability discrimination. We’re providing regular coverage of the jury trial, which is expected to last about four more weeks. For the background on Mr. Simers’ termination, go here. For the testimony of Mr. Simers’ psychiatrist earlier this week, go here.

Duel of the psychological experts

A psychologist retained by the Times testified this week that Mr. Simers scored “very high” for paranoia on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. His test results showed that he was “overly sensitive to criticism,” “lacking in insight,” and scored a 6 on the paranoia scale. The psychologist testified that his MMPI result was consistent with people who are “self centered and have hurt feelings.”

Mr. Simers’ own psychiatrist testified earlier this week that he was devastated by his demotion, and was suffering from major depression.

I don’t know what to make of the psychological testimony. As I noted on Tuesday, I can believe that Mr. Simers was depressed. He had a lot to be depressed about, what with his medical condition and some of the changes going on at the Times. But how much of that was caused by the demotion (as opposed to these other potential causes)?

On the other hand, I’m skeptical of the defense psychologist, who interviewed him for three hours — presumably after he’d already got the shaft from the Times (allegedly) and maybe had reason to be “paranoid.” Yeah, maybe his standardized test scores were a little skewed after everything that has (allegedly) happened.

(It’s supposedly common for jurors to disregard “dueling” expert witnesses – this is probably why.)

Maybe he wasn’t quite ready to be back at work?

Mr. Simers collapsed in a hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona, in March 2013, and says it was a “mini-stroke.” (His neurologist says he has complex migraine syndrome but did not see any signs of a mini-stroke.) In any event, it seems that something was seriously physically wrong with Mr. Simers as of March 2013. Yet prior news reports indicated that he had returned to work only five days after the collapse.

In his court testimony this week, he said that, after the collapse, he had a constant headache, found it difficult to concentrate, and “My head was just one big noise.” He had to hang out in the media room at sporting events, where it was quieter.

On May 12, 2013 (Mother’s Day), Mr. Simers was supposed to be covering a baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the White Sox in Chicago. Instead of going to the game, Mr. Simers drove out to the cemetery in Wheaton, Illinois, where his parents were buried and spent the day at their graves.

Meanwhile, Chris Sale of the White Sox pitched a perfect game until the seventh inning. (The White Sox won, 3-0.) Mr. Simers’ column was about himself, and his mom and dad, instead of the ball game that he’d been sent to Chicago to write about.

The Mother’s Day column is kind of sweet and very sad, knowing that Mr. Simers must have been staring his own mortality in the face after his medical incident. But I can’t imagine that the Times was too happy that he skipped the game.

This makes me wonder whether Mr. Simers’ professional judgment was impaired and whether he was really ready to be back at work. Should he have taken a proper medical leave of absence instead?

“Unethical” behavior

As we know, Mr. Simers’ demotion allegedly occurred because he had appeared in an “unethical” video with his daughter Kelly and former Laker Dwight Howard. Mr. Simers contends that the reason for the demotion was bogus, and testified this week that his bosses knew he had appeared on an ESPN sports show and was working on scripts for TV and movies. (Implication: No one minded his self-promotion, which probably benefitted the Times as well, until after Mr. Simers’ “mini-stroke,” or whatever it was.)

I believe the Times is going to say that they investigated but ultimately determined that Mr. Simers had not violated any specific ethical standards or “code of conduct.”

Fatal admissions?

Mr. Simers’ daughter Tracy testified on Monday, and said that she and her dad had speculated that he was really demoted because he’d been critical of the Dodgers’ owner at the time, Frank McCourt, and the owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno. If that’s correct, then it might be unfair, but it would not be an illegal reason to demote Mr. Simers.

Then, yesterday, Mr. Simers admitted on cross-examination that he had not been fired by the Times at all and that they even asked him to come back. They offered him a demotion with no cut in pay to the general assignment desk. He admitted that he rejected the new position and quit instead. “How are you going to return to work for people you just can’t trust?” he asked his own attorney on redirect.

These seem to me to be some pretty damaging admissions on the part of the plaintiff’s side.

Stay with us – this case gets more interesting by the day! And please do feel free to give us your own thoughts in the comments section.

Robin Shea is a Partner with the law firm of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP and has more than 20 years’ experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act), the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act; and class and collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage-hour laws; defense of audits by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs; and labor relations. She conducts training for human resources professionals, management, and employees on a wide variety of topics.


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