S&R Attorneys Shields and Yelverton Achieve Federal Trial Victory

January 2018

S&R Attorneys Joel Shields and Ben Yelverton obtained a federal jury verdict in favor of client Robert Willich against his former employer, Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Processing Division) in the Western District of Texas, Waco Division, the Honorable Robert Pitman presiding.  The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Willich on all his claims including disability discrimination, failure to accommodate a disability, retaliation, and exemplary damage liability. The jury awarded Willich damages for lost wages and benefits to the date of trial, compensatory damages in the past, compensatory damages in the future, and punitive damages. The amount awarded by the jury was forty-six times greater than Sanderson Farms’ highest pre-trial offer of settlement.

Mr. Willich was a sanitation employee at a chicken processing plant. Mr. Willich had fractured his ankle at the plant. At trial, Mr. Willich presented testimony and introduced evidence showing that he was disabled because of his fractured ankle. The evidence also established that Sanderson Farms refused to accommodate Mr. Willich’s work restrictions issued by his doctor. Mr. Willich claimed that Sanderson Farms retaliated against him by terminating his employment because he asked to work his shift on October 13, 2015, after reporting to the nurse that he had taken his legally prescribed pain medication; complained that Sanderson Farms was violating his work restrictions on October 14, 2015, and afterward; complained about being disciplined for the October 13, 2015, absence; and requested short-term disability leave if Sanderson Farms was not going to accommodate his work restrictions. The jury agreed with Mr. Willich, and rejected Sanderson Farms’ claim that it terminated Mr. Willich for gross insubordination in connection with his alleged behavior during two meetings with a human resources employee, and other Sanderson Farms supervisors.

Mr. Willich intends to file requests for the Court to award him front pay (i.e., future loss of wages and benefits) and attorneys’ fees.