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Wadler v. Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 10, 2017

SANFORD S. WADLER, Plaintiff,
v.
BIO-RAD LABORATORIES, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 50(B) AND MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 59 RE: DKT. NO. 240

          JOSEPH C. SPERO CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On February 7, 2017, a jury verdict was entered in favor of Plaintiff Sanford Wadler in this whistleblower action against his former employer, Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (''Bio-Rad'') and its CEO, Norman Schwartz, after the Court denied Defendants‘ motion for judgment as a matter law pursuant to Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Dkt. No. 215. The jury found that Defendants were liable on all three of Wadler‘s claims, namely, violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, violation of the Dodd-Frank Act, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy under California law (the ''Tameny Claim''), and awarded $2, 960, 000 in past economic loss damages and $5, 000, 000 in punitive damages. The jury awarded no damages for future economic loss or emotional distress. Presently before the Court is Defendants‘ Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and Motion for New Trial Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 (''Motion''). The Court finds that the Motion is suitable for determination without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b) and therefore vacates the hearing set for May 19, 2017. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is DENIED.[1]

         II. BACKGROUND

         Throughout trial, the parties presented starkly different theories of the relevant events. Defendants‘ theory of the case is succinctly summarized in the Motion:

Bio-Rad terminated Mr. Wadler on June 7, 2013, immediately after serious deficiencies in his legal judgment had been confirmed and after months of obstructive, irrational, and belligerent behavior that no public company should be forced to tolerate from its General Counsel. His behavior led to calls for his termination by the head of Human Resources, the Board of Directors, and the CFO. . . . The Board and the CFO both reached the point of ''him or me, '' i.e., if Mr. Wadler stayed on, they would resign because of his risky and intolerable behavior. . . . Despite his combative stance during cross-examination, Mr. Wadler admitted that a General Counsel needs to show good judgment and work effectively with senior management. By June 7, 2013, Mr. Wadler had long-since ceased doing either of those things. His claim to be a whistleblower-which was not based on even the slightest investigation-was discredited by everyone who reviewed it in real time.

         Motion at 2-3.

         Plaintiff, on the other hand, asserts Bio-Rad‘s position is nothing more than ''the traditional whistleblower defense, maligning Mr. Wadler, exaggerating a handful of small workplace issues, and arguing that it would have fired him anyway'' and contends the jury ''correctly disregarded these inconsistent, after-the-fact, and undocumented pretexts.'' Opposition at 2. According to Plaintiff:

The evidence clearly showed that Mr. Wadler engaged in protected activity. There was no meaningful evidence at trial challenging his subjective belief in the complaint he made. Moreover, the contemporaneous reaction to the disclosure shows that it was objectively reasonable. Bio-Rad‘s audit committee, its officers, and its outside counsel all believed that Mr. Wadler‘s concerns required serious investigation, and they spent substantial time and money investigating them (however unthoroughly as the evidence showed).

Id. at 1. Plaintiff further asserts that the ''clear evidence'' showed that ''[w]hen Mr. Schwartz learned of Mr. Wadler‘s complaint, his first impulse was to put him on leave. Mr. Wadler was labeled a 'whistleblower threat, ‘ 'loose cannon, ‘ and 'paranoid, ‘ and a secret plan was hatched to fire him.'' Id. at 1-2.

         According to Plaintiff, ''Mr. Schwartz repeatedly contradicted his prior sworn testimony and, more disturbingly, was forced to admit that a key piece of defense evidence was a forgery, created and backdated after Mr. Wadler‘s termination.'' Id. at 2. ''This forgery was aided by Ms. Corey both in this trial and before the Department of Labor.'' Id. Thus, Plaintiff contends, ''it is little wonder that the jury disbelieved Bio-Rad‘s implausible claim that, suddenly after 25 years, Mr. Wadler became a monstrous and abusive coworker, too toxic to endure, yet paradoxically no one counseled him or made any effort to determine what was wrong, and Bio-Rad allowed him to keep working without any attempt to warn or improve for months until he was fired without warning in June without any final triggering event.'' Id. at 2.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         1. Rule 50(b)

         Rule 50 governs motions for judgment as a matter of law in cases involving jury trials. Rule 50(a)(1) provides as follows:

1) In General. If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to ...

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