Attorney expects appeal in U.S. Steel decision

By Mike Helenthal | Jun 3, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- The attorney for a Pennsylvania man who won a $5.5 million judgment from U.S. Steel in February for workplace discrimination expects the company to appeal the decision.

Paul Tershel, of Pennsylvania-based Tershel and Associates, said a notice of appeal likely won't come until other outstanding trial issues involving an additional $350,000 in plaintiff “back and front” pay, and the payment of other expenses and fees are resolved.

Tershel said he also has asked the court to apply sanctions to U.S. Steel for failing to disclose case-related information during the discovery period.

“I’m assuming there will be an appeal after these issues are settled,” he said. “There are still a lot of outstanding piecemeal issues.”

The attorney’s client is Albert Gucker, a 30-year U.S. Steel heavy equipment repairman who a jury agreed was discriminated against by a new supervisor who refused to acknowledge a prior workplace accommodation for Gucker’s arthritic knee. Those accommodated restrictions involved not lifting items weighing more than 30 pounds or climbing.

U.S. Steel claimed the 61-year-old Gucker was dismissed after he failed a functional-capacity evaluation and had become a workplace safety threat.

Gucker’s contention in the two-week trial was that he was fired in 2011 by U.S. Steel because of his medical condition, despite the prior lifting accommodation that was granted by the company in 2003 and reiterated by a company physician following an evaluation for a subsequent surgery for another condition.

Gucker’s court filing cited violations of the American with Disabilities Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The court dismissed Gucker’s age discrimination claim.

After seven hours of deliberation in the February trial, the jury awarded Gucker $550,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

Tershel said one of the outstanding and unresolved issues involves adjustments to the final settlement based on the jury’s lack of information on state and federally mandated award caps.

He said he believes the punitive damages were so large in Gucker’s case because the plaintiff was able to prove that he had been a model employee up to the point of his dismissal. Gucker’s attorneys also argued that his work and dedication to the company defined him as a person, and the loss of the job and the company’s treatment was devastating to him.

“He became very depressed after all of this happened,” Tershel said, adding that his client currently is living on his U.S. Steel pension and working a part-time job. “We hope this sends the message that you can’t treat employees like you treated him. You can’t wear them down and throw them away.”

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