Iowa Jury Awards $4.5 Million to F&T Client

A Poweshiek County jury found that Grinnell Regional Medical Center (GRMC) and two of its administrators discriminated against Fiedler & Timmer client Gregg Hawkins, a 38-year employee, based on his age and disability (cancer) and retaliated against him when he opposed the discrimination. The jury’s verdict surpasses $4.5 Million.

F&T lawyers Brooke Timmer, Nate Borland, and Amy Beck represented Gregg during the 10-day jury at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa. Trial included a full day of jury selection, eight days of testimony and other evidence, and several hours of closing arguments and rebuttal. After less than a day of deliberation, the eight-person jury reached a unanimous verdict, finding in Gregg’s favor on all three of his claims against the corporation and two administrators.

The jury ordered GRMC and the administrators to pay Gregg $222,009.68 in back pay, representing the full amount of his lost wages and fringe benefits from the date of his termination through the date of the verdict. The jury further ordered GRMC and its administrators to pay Gregg $2,000,000 for emotional distress in the past and $2,280,000 for emotional distress in the future. The total amount of the jury’s verdict is $4,502,009.68. Gregg and his lawyers will now ask the court to award Gregg future lost wages and order GRMC and the administrators to pay the attorney’s fees and costs incurred in prosecuting the case. They will also seek equitable relief, which typically includes court-ordered training and a command that the defendants not engage in such discriminatory or retaliatory conduct in the future.

Gregg Hawkins joined the Grinnell Regional Medical Center (then Grinnell General Hospital) laboratory in 1976, when he was just 22 years old. His first job out of college, Gregg and his wife, Diane, relocated to Grinnell for the opportunity. Nine years into his employment, GRMC promoted Gregg to Laboratory Director, a position he held until his termination. Gregg faithfully served GRMC and its patients, physicians, and staff for nearly four decades. In November 2013, Gregg was diagnosed with Stage III Breast Cancer, underwent surgery, and began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Gregg returned to work on a part-time basis in March 2014.

On June 2, 2014, GRMC CEO Todd Linden, VP David Ness, and HR Director Debra Nowachek met with Gregg and told him it was time for him to “retire.” Gregg resisted their demands in person and in writing, but GRMC’s administrators twice reiterated their demands in the weeks that followed. On July 10, 2014, faced with Gregg’s opposition to their illegal demands that he retire, GRMC placed Gregg on an involuntary leave of absence. In September 2014, Gregg again stood up for his rights, telling GRMC, Ness, Nowachek, and Linden that he felt like he was being discriminated against because of his disability and asking for an assurance that there would be no further retaliation. Gregg returned to work in October 2014, and during the months that followed, GRMC, Ness, and Nowachek engaged in a campaign of retaliation against Gregg.

To his credit, Gregg stood up to the ongoing discrimination. On January 30, 2015, Gregg told Ness and Nowachek – to their faces – that he felt they had been discriminating against him because of his age and disability. Just a month later, on March 9, 2015, GRMC issued Gregg the first corrective action he had everĀ received in his 38 years of service. For the next two months, GRMC padded Gregg’s flawless personnel record with false and exaggerated accusations. The retaliation culminated with GRMC firing Gregg on June 3, 2015, for alleged performance deficiencies.

At trial, Gregg’s lawyers attacked the reasons given by GRMC and the administrators. 19 witnesses, most still employees of GRMC, testified about their observations of Gregg and the laboratory, painting a far different picture than what was alleged by GRMC. The jury heard evidence contradicting nearly every allegation GRMC, Ness, and Nowachek levied against Gregg after his cancer diagnosis and discrimination complaints, and ultimately found that Gregg’s disability, age, and complaints of discrimination were motivating factors in GRMC’s decision to fire Gregg. The jury also heard considerable evidence of Gregg’s emotional distress. Gregg’s wife, adult daughters, and a close family friend provided testimony about how GRMC’s actions left Gregg depressed, without energy, and broken. A mental health expert testified about Gregg’s emotional distress, the diagnoses that described his condition, and the significant harm caused by his firing.

We are deeply grateful to the jury for their attention and dedication to finding the truth through a long, very detailed trial. Their verdict recognizes the great harm caused by GRMC and its administrators’ illegal conduct.

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