This article first appeared on Missouri Lawyers Media, here.
An arbitrator awarded nearly $20 million to two former employees of a St. Louis-area janitorial company in what he said were some of the most egregious employment-discrimination cases he’d ever seen.
Glenn Norton, of-counsel with Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch and a retired judge of the Court of Appeals Eastern District, on April 29 awarded more than $11.4 million to Harold Barnett, a 48-year-old Black employee who was terminated from Columbia Maintenance Company in 2014.
In a separate order on the same day, Norton awarded more than $8.5 million to Charles Taylor, Barnett’s 50-year-old white supervisor, who had refused company owner William Hausman’s orders to fire him.
Norton found that Hausman — who, according to court records, died in November — used racial slurs and other derogatory names to refer to Barnett and to Taylor’s wife, who was of Mexican descent. Hausman ultimately ordered Taylor to “get rid of” Barnett even though he had received exclusively positive performance reviews, Norton found.
When Taylor refused, Hausman ultimately fired Barnett in February 2014 after he’d had trouble getting to work on a snowy day. Hausman fired Taylor the following July after ordering him to rebuild a dozen vacuum cleaners in a day, which Norton found was “impossible.”
Norton described both cases as among “the most egregious and blatant Missouri Human Rights case violations this Arbitrator has seen.”
In an email, Gretchen Myers, an attorney for both plaintiffs, called them “two amazing men of courage and conviction.”
The lawsuits originally were filed in St. Louis County, but the parties submitted them to binding arbitration in St. Louis after the defendants’ insurers denied coverage. James Wyrsch of Khazaeli & Wyrsch, an attorney for the defendants, said in an email that “arbitration was conducted and award was issued only after Defendants and Plaintiffs entered into a limitation of liability agreement” under Section 537.065 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri.
Under that law, defendants who face a denial of coverage can agree to allow the plaintiff to obtain a judgment against them so long as the plaintiff seeks to collect that award only from the defendant’s insurance policy, resulting in separate litigation against the insurer in which the plaintiff must prove there was coverage.
Such a judgment is determined at a bench trial or, as in this case, through arbitration. The defendant typically doesn’t put up a fight, but the Columbia Maintenance defendants denied the plaintiffs’ allegations, and their attorney offered “a hard-hitting cross examination” and a “forceful closing,” Norton wrote.
The insurers, AMCO and Depositors, were present for the arbitration but didn’t participate. They are contesting coverage in a pending suit in federal court.
The St. Louis Circuit Court subsequently confirmed the awards and added post-judgment interest at 5.25 percent. An appeal of those judgments is pending in the Court of Appeals Eastern District. The plaintiffs have filed separate litigation seeking to recover the awards from the insurers for Columbia Maintenance and a related company, MK Maintenance LLC, which was found liable in Taylor’s case but not in Barnett’s.
$11.44 million and $8.56 million arbitration awards
Breakdown for Barnett: $51,019 past lost wages; $145,396 future lost wages; $2,000,000 compensatory; $9,000,000 punitive damages; $240,350 attorney’s fee; $244.93 costs. Total award of $11,437,009.90.
Breakdown for Taylor: $75,212.75 past lost wages; $248,339.84 future lost wages; $2,000,000 compensatory damages; $6,000,000 punitive damages; $232,105 attorney’s fees; $526.13 in costs. Total award of $8,556,183.72
Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court
Case Number/Date: 2022-CC00818 and 2022-CC00819/April 29, 2020
Arbitrator: Glenn Norton
Plaintiff’s Expert (for Taylor): Lanie Champa, St. Louis (psychological)
Captions: Harold Barnett v. Columbia Maintenance Company and William Hausman; Charles Taylor v. Columbia Maintenance Company, MK Maintenance LLC and William Hausman
Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Gretchen Myers, The Law Offices of Gretchen Myers, St. Louis
Defendants’ Attorney: James Wyrsch, Khazaeli & Wyrsch, St. Louis
Scott Lauck is a senior reporter with Missouri Lawyers Weekly and is based in Kansas City.