Julie Gilman Veronese sued Lucasfilm Ltd. in 2009 after she was hired—and then fired—as an assistant to the estate manager at George Lucas’s San Anselmo estate. She claimed she was fired because she was pregnant. Lucasfilm denied the allegations and submitted evidence that she was “entitled”. And so it began…
And it still isn’t over yet. After winning a verdict of $113,830 in damages and $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees (yes, you read that correctly; the attorneys’ fees award was over 10 times the amount of the damages award—now you know why there are so many plaintiffs’ attorneys!), Veronese lost at the appellate court level and the California Supreme Court recently declined to hear her case. The case will now likely be retried in Marin Superior Court.
The appeal largely turned on the trial court’s refusal to give a jury instruction on business judgment to the effect that Lucasfilm could make a wrong or unfair decision so long as it was not “motivated by discrimination or retaliation related to her being pregnant.” In declining to give the instruction, the trial court committed reversible error.
While the facts of the case generated some media attention due to the involvement of Lucasfilm, the more interesting issue is the business judgment instruction viewed in the context of modern trial tactics. If possible, plaintiffs lawyers will attempt to have juries second guess business decisions, rather than focus solely on the issue of whether discrimination occurred. This is legally incorrect and unfair; not only is hindsight 20-20 , but the jury system is not designed as a check against ordinary management choices. Nevertheless, this strategy is likely to continue to be used until jury instructions like the one sought by Lucasfilm become standard.
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