Archive for April, 2011

In recent years, Warren Jeffs, incarcerated leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has been charged with bigamy, sexual assault, and rape in multiple states. The $110 million trust for the polygamist sect owns more than 700 houses, farms, dairies, and other businesses on land in two communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Several entities have sued the trust as an accomplice to Jeffs, and Utah intervened in the trust amid claims of mismanagement stemming from the alleged crimes of Jeffs.

A federal trial court entered an order returning control of the trust, including financial and property records and all of the trust’s assets, to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Then a state trial court filed a motion with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting a stay of the first order. The Tenth Circuit agreed and indefinitely stayed that order, halting the return of control of a $110 million trust to the polygamist sect.

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Kerry Christensen drove a truck that hit John Boyle in the crosswalk of a grocery story parking lot. Boyle, a former professional golfer, underwent back surgery after the accident and lost his job at a golf shop because he cannot carry two buckets of golf balls at a time. Christensen admitted liability, and the case went to trial to determine damages. In closing arguments, Christensen’s lawyer said the following:

Ladies and gentlemen, they want a lot of money for this. A lot of money. . . . How many days has it been since the accident? How many days for the rest of his life? And how much per day is that worth? That’s what’s been done here. That’s how we get verdicts like in the McDonald’s case with the cup of coffee.

In that case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s, a jury awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages to a woman who was scalded by hot coffee. Boyle’s attorney objected to the reference, but the trial court allowed it.

On appeal, Boyle argued that the cultural reference unduly prejudiced the jury, which subsequently awarded him $62,500 – far short of the $458,724 he sought for pain and suffering. The Utah Supreme Court and reversed and remanded the case for a new trial:

We reverse and remand for a new trial because under the circumstances, the reference had a reasonable likelihood of influencing the jury verdict to Mr. Boyle’s detriment.

The court noted that a new trial is an “extreme remedy,” but stated that, without the reference, there was a reasonable likelihood of a more favorable outcome for Boyle.

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In September 2005, Tanisha Matthews, an overnight stocker at Wal-Mart for nine years, became involved in an impassioned discussion about God and homosexuality with a lesbian co-worker named Amy during a break. When Wal-Mart officials investigated the incident, they learned that Matthews screamed at Amy that God does not accept gays, that gays should not "be on earth," and that they will "go to hell" because they are not "right in the head." After the three-month investigation, Matthews was fired for violating Wal-Mart’s Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, which prohibits employees from harassment based on an individual’s status, including sexual orientation.

Matthews sued Wal-Mart, arguing that Wal-Mart fired her for stating her religious belief that gays will go to hell, which she maintains is central to her Apostolic-Christian faith. If perceived harassment had really spurred Wal-Mart’s action, Matthews said the company would not have let her continue working with Amy for the next three months during the company’s investigation. The trial court granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart, finding no evidence that similarly situated employees had received different treatment.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, noting the following:

Wal-Mart fired [Matthews] because she violated the company policy when she harassed a coworker, not because of her beliefs, and employers need not relieve workers from complying with neutral workplace rules as a religious accommodation if it would create an undue hardship.               

For the full story, click here.

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