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Orkin worker who wasn’t rehired wins big at trial

Scott Lauck//December 13, 2016

Orkin worker who wasn’t rehired wins big at trial

Scott Lauck//December 13, 2016

A Jackson County jury on Thursday awarded more than $10 million in damages to a former employee of pest control company Orkin.

Gary Gentry worked as a pest technician for Orkin’s Independence branch from 2007 until 2012, when he was terminated. Within a month of his termination, Gentry filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights alleging that he was discharged because of his age and a disability. At the time he was 61 and recently had gone on medical leave to treat a work-related shoulder injury, according to his original discrimination charge.

Gentry received a right-to-sue letter in 2012 but never pursued litigation. Instead, in 2013, he twice asked to be rehired. The company did not offer him a job, even though Gentry’s former manager, Danny Biron, had written him a positive letter of recommendation, praising him as “a model employee.”

Gentry alleged Biron told him there were no open positions at the time. But, he alleged, Orkin did in fact have open positions that it filled with less experienced workers. Orkin denied those claims and said in court documents that Gentry wasn’t rehired because of “subpar performance” during his original employment.

Gentry sued the company in 2014, alleging that the company’s refusal to rehire him was retaliation for having filed the discrimination charge in 2012.

Valerie Hartman, a court spokeswoman, said Thursday’s verdict consisted of $120,892 in actual damages, $10 million in punitive damages against Orkin and $5,000 in punitive damages against Biron.

Gentry’s attorney, Kirk Holman of Holman Schiavone, did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did Trina R. Le Riche of Ogletree Deakins, the lead defense attorney for Orkin.

“We are very disappointed with the verdict,” the Atlanta, Georgia-based company said in an emailed statement. “We believe it is contrary to the weight of the evidence, and it is a miscarriage of justice. We will file motions with the judge to reconsider and throw out the verdict, and we plan to fight vigorously at the Court of Appeals level.”

The case initially was set for trial in 2015, but Orkin went to the Court of Appeals Western District arguing that the case should have gone to arbitration, pursuant to an arbitration clause Gentry allegedly signed when he was hired. In May, the Western District held that Orkin had waived any right to arbitrate by litigating the case for more than a year before bringing up the arbitration clause. The court said the move appeared to be “purely a tactical one,” as it came shortly after Judge Jennifer Phillips had denied Orkin’s motion to exclude evidence of the 2012 discrimination charge at trial.

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$10.1 million verdict

Employment discrimination

Breakdown: $120,892 in actual damages; $10 million in punitive damages against Orkin; $5,000 in punitive damages against Biron

Venue: Jackson County Circuit Court at Independence

Case Number/Date: 1416-CV16259/Dec. 8, 2016

Judge: Jennifer Phillips

Caption: Gary Gentry v. Orkin LLC and Danny Biron

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Kirk Holman and Kenneth D. Kinney, Holman Schiavone, Kansas City

Defendants’ Attorneys: Trina R. Le Riche, Ogletree Deakins, Kansas City; Jon M. Gumbel, Burr & Forman, Atlanta, Georgia


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