Jurors awarded a former truck driver $785,000 in a case alleging he was terminated for retaliatory discharge after reporting his employer for allegedly inappropriately dumping toxic substances.
The one-week trial came to a close on Friday in Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth’s courtroom after jurors reached a verdict in favor of plaintiff Paul Crane Jr. and against defendant Midwest Sanitary Service Inc.
The jury awarded Crane $160,000 in compensatory damages and $625,000 in punitive damages.
Crane was represented in the case by Lee W. Barron of Alton.
Midwest was represented in the case by John Gilbert of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard in Edwardsville.
Crane filed his complaint against Midwest, Bob Evans Sr., Bob Evans Jr. and Nancy Donovan on March 31, 2014, arguing that during his employment with the Wood River company, he observed Midwest engaging in “unauthorized and illegal dumping and/or storage of toxic waste and other substances hazardous to the health and well-being of the public.” Midwest Sanitary Service was the only remaining defendant at trial.
Crane alleges he took photos of the violations and reported them to state regulators.
Then on Nov. 18, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency sent Midwest a letter noting the “numerous environmental violations” engaged in by the defendant.
Crane was terminated that same day. He alleges his employer knew or suspected he was the individual who reported the violations, resulting in his termination.
He claims his employer placed a note in his final paycheck that read “Think before you speak. Words can get you into trouble much easier then (sic) they can get you out of it.”
Crane sought more than $50,000, punitive damages, all back wages and benefits, front pay and benefits, pre- and post-judgment interest, emotional distress and compensatory damages and any other relief the court deems just.
Midwest’s answers to Crane’s interrogatories were submitted as exhibits in the trial on Nov. 9. In its answers, the defendant argues that the plaintiff was terminated because “his attitude became increasingly inappropriate. He was frustrated and angry and voiced his frustrations and anger to customers and employees of Midwest Sanitary Service, Inc.”
Midwest also argues that Crane asked Bob Evans Sr. to consider laying him off and allow the plaintiff to collect unemployment because he had another job that he would be paid cash for.
The defendant alleges it had decided to terminate Crane on Nov. 15, 2013, but the plaintiff failed to show up for work that day. As a result, it terminated him the following Monday.
Midwest denies knowing who made the complaint with the EPA.
Several depositions were also submitted on the record as part of the trial.
Donovan’s deposition was taken on Feb. 20. Donovan stated that she only knew of Crane’s alleged issues from what employees Al Evans and Jeff Evans said. She said the two told her that Crane would “bad-mouth” the company to customers and would angrily slam windows to the dispatch office.
As for the letter in Crane’s paystub, she said she doesn’t remember if she was the one who chose to place it in with his paycheck.
“I didn’t give it much thought. It was next in line of my sayings and that was – that was how it was in line is – I guess all I can say is that was the next saying that I had,” she stated.
Allen Evans’ deposition was taken on Aug. 24.He stated that he suspected Crane had contacted the EPA based on a prior conversation. He explained that in a meeting with Crane after writing him up, the plaintiff refused to sign the papers.
“He said, ‘You’ll be sorry.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ He said, ‘You’ll find out,’ and walked out,” Allen Evans’ deposition states.
Bob Evans Sr.’s deposition was taken on Feb. 20 and Bob Evans Jr.’s deposition was taken on Aug. 24. They stated that Crane recommended to customers that they use a different hauler rather than Midwest.
Madison County Circuit Court case number 14-L-501