After deliberating late into the night of a rare Saturday trial session, jurors in a Kentucky state court trial partially sided with Paula Singer in a wrongful-termination action by delivering a judgment of $47,417 against a prominent equine insurance agency and former boss Richard Vimont. But the jury awarded no punitive or emotional distress damages in the case that featured allegations of international insurance fraud.
The verdicts, which were announced at 11 p.m on Jan. 31 in Woodford County Circuit Court following a 14-hour trial session, were leveled against Bluegrass Bloodstock Agency, which is based in Midway, Ky.; and former company executive Vimont, who is currently an assistant county attorney for Fayette County in Kentucky.
Bluegrass Bloodstock owner Rick Trontz, who was also a defendant in the matter, was individually cleared of any allegations, including those of insurance fraud and wire fraud made by Singer.
Trontz and attorney Frank Becker, who represented the defendants, declined to comment on the verdicts of the jury, which was comprised of eight women and four men. Vimont exited the courtroom shortly after the findings were read and was not immediately available for comment.
Jurors were asked to consider two primary premises in the trial: That Singer was either fired in August 2001 because she was a poor manager of her staff at Bluegrass Bloodstock, or because she was on the verge of uncovering an international scheme of fraud involving her bosses. The jury deliberated for six hours before returning its verdicts to Circuit Court Judge Robert Johnson, who presided over the four-day trial.
After the trial ended, attorney Michael Meuser, who was co-counsel for Singer, expressed mixed feelings about the verdicts.
“This industry has a lot good people, and a lot of talented people, and while we are disappointed that a stronger message wasn’t sent with what was done to Paula, the jury found that she was fired because she refused to participate in a crime,” Meuser said. “And that’s very important to her, and very important to us.”
The jury’s judgment against Bluegrass Bloodstock and Vimont represented wages Singer lost in the 16-month period before she found another job in December 2002. The jury was asked to decide in the pertinent interrogatory if her refusal to commit or participate in a crime was a “motivating factor” for her firing.
The trial sprang from a wrongful-termination lawsuit originally filed by Singer more than seven years ago, just months after she was fired on Aug. 22, 2001. In it, Singer claims she was fired for refusing to sign-off on a suspicious insurance claim, a transaction she contends later led to the uncovering of alleged improper dealings between Trontz and an English insurance broker named Peter Trend.
Meuser and co-counsel Michael J. Cox presented the bulk of the plaintiff’s evidence and testimony during the first two days of the trial which started Jan. 26, painting a portrait of fraudulent activity by Bluegrass and the two individual defendants.
After a two-day break necessitated by an ice storm, Becker introduced witnesses and evidence to try and support the contention that Singer was an exceptionally mean and uncooperative manager, and also debunk the insurance-related fraud allegations of his clients.
Vimont, who testified Jan. 31 before the jury took the case, said he recommended Trontz fire Singer because she was a “terrible boss” that ran off her staff, and claimed she frequently walked off the job, among other detriments. He also denied he had done anything illegal or improper in handling the claim Singer questioned.
Attorneys for both sides said they would consider appealing the jury’s decisions.
“I think there are a lot of options, but we will have to go back and review it and assess that,” Cox said.
Becker declined to comment further about appeal possibilities.