On December 10, after a three- week trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, a jury awarded pilot Doyle Baker nearly $64 million, in a lawsuit against aircraft management firm PrivatAir and three of its employees. Baker filed suit in July 2004, alleging that Privat-Air had fired him at age 62 due, in part, to age discrimination.
He also charged that two other PrivatAir pilots and a flight attendant had conspired with PrivatAir in making false accusations against him. They include sleeping at the controls, performing unauthorized approaches, alcoholism and mental incompetence.
The jury ordered PrivatAir to pay Baker $2.517 million for age discrimination, $14 million for defamation, $5.717 million for “intentional infliction” and $10 million in punitive damages. In addition, the court ordered the two other pilots, John Kaylor and John Davee, to pay $15.727 million and $3.219 million, respectively, for defamation, intentional infliction and punitive damages. Flight attendant Robert Fries was ordered to pay $12.72 million.
Baker’s attorney, Michael Kelly, told AIN that the crewmembers likely have indemnity agreements with PrivatAir, meaning that the company would be responsible for payment of any judgment against them.
PrivatAir, which has its U.S. headquarters in Stratford, Conn., and the three crewmembers were represented by attorney Joseph Maya. CEO Greg Thomas issued a statement saying, “It is our company’s policy not to comment on the merits of matters before the court. We are studying the judgment and reviewing which of our appeal options to pursue. We remain confident that the process will be concluded to our absolute satisfaction.”
Asked what he expected to happen next, Kelly told AIN, “I’ve practiced law for 25 years and I’m usually pretty good at predicting what the other side will do. In this case, I haven’t got a clue.” He added that he expects any post-trial motions to be filed this month. Without appeal, he said, the plaintiff could move to attach PrivatAir’s assets.
For an unbiased view of Privat- Air’s legal position, AIN contacted Edith Pearce, a Philadelphia- based attorney who specializes in age-discrimination litigation. Though she cautioned that without reviewing the facts she could speak only in general terms, Pearce outlined some actions PrivatAir might take.
“They could petition the judge for ‘remittitur,’ a request that he review the settlement and make adjustments to the amounts,” she said. Pearce also noted that Privat-Air could file an appeal in appellate court, asking that it consider “reversible errors” such as striking some pieces of evidence, recognizing other evidence that might not have been presented or recognizing a wrongly overruled objection. The appellate court could begin a new trial or change part of the verdict, she added. Kelly said that defendants must post a bond in order to file an appeal, usually 10 percent of the settlement amount.
“This is a very large award,” Pearce said, “and that opens up avenues to settlement.” She added that such settlements often come with confidentiality agreements and “no disparagement” clauses. Since both sides often agree not to discuss the settlement, Pearce said, the public rarely learns the end results. “The big numbers get the headlines but the final outcome is usually hidden.”