A federal jury has awarded nearly $5 million in damages to a former Wonderful Citrus Packing LLC manager in Delano after the company allegedly sent hundreds of employees emails wrongly accusing him of theft and embezzlement.
In a decision handed down Thursday in federal district court in Fresno, the jury found that the company failed to take reasonable steps to determine whether there was truth behind the allegations it made against plaintiff James K. Jordan, a more than 27-year employee of Wonderful Citrus who served as senior director if its northern farming division.
Wonderful Citrus is part of Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co., Kern County's largest farming company and owner of the popular Halos brand of mandarins.
Jordan's lawsuit said the company sent two emails to 300 to 400 employees before notifying him his employment with Wonderful was being terminated.
Wonderful Citrus said in an emailed statement it is disappointed by the jury decision.
"All employment actions taken by the company were made in good faith for legitimate business reasons," the company said.
Jordan's attorney, Mick Marderosian with the Fresno law firm of Marderosian & Cohen, said in a news release Wonderful made no offer to try to settle the case prior to the verdict. The release characterized the company's conduct as defamatory, saying Wonderful Citrus had falsely accused Jordan, age 56, of stealing from the company.
The jury verdict stated employees who received the company's accusatory email reasonably understood Jordan was the subject of the allegation and that they further understood he had been accused of a crime. The jury also decided the allegation was not substantially true.
Jordan was awarded $482,114 for harm caused to his property, business, trade, profession or occupation, plus $1.9 million for harm to his reputation and another $2.5 million for damage to his reputation and for shame, mortification or hurt feelings.
But the jury also found Jordan had not proved that Wonderful Citrus had acted with malice, oppression or fraud in making accusations against him.