By Tom Aswell
Back in early October, LouisianaVoice did a story about railroad safety and the firing by Union Pacific Railroad of one of its employees because he took a rail line out of service over safety issues despite being ordered not to do so.
Johnny Taylor subsequently SUED Union Pacific and the railroad offered the defense that Taylor was terminated for disrespectful conduct and that he had “significant performance issues” and a history of “insubordination and outright refusal to alter his behavior.”
It was the classic David v. Goliath case with Taylor represented by J. Arthur Smith, III, and Rob Schmidt of the no-nonsense law firm headed up by Art Smith, III. Smith and Schmidt were pitted against a bank of suited corporate lawyers whose purpose was to protect the interest of Union Pacific.
(Full disclosure: Smith also is my attorney in public records and public meeting litigation and has won three of four such cases that have gone to trial. I like to joke that he is also the typical lawyer in that he goes by the traditional first initial, followed by his middle name, last name, and a Roman numeral – as in J. Arthur Smith, III. His son also is an attorney in his firm. His name is J. Arthur Smith, IV. They’re referred to by their legal team as Art-Three, Art-Four and Rob Schmidt.)
If you view the Smith Law Firm office on North Street in downtown Baton Rouge from either the outside or its interior, you wouldn’t be impressed. But then, Art-Three doesn’t go in for a lot of frills. The most expensive artwork you’ll find in his office consists of an array of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz-Fest) poster reproductions. A big outing for Art-Three is for him and his beautiful wife to peruse the latest releases at the Louisiana Book Festival in downtown Baton Rouge each fall (cancelled, unfortunately, the past two years because of COVID).
You won’t see the Smith Law Firm assaulting your senses with all those mind-numbing commercials during local newscasts (local TV news exists only to keep those ads from bumping together and lately, even that task is seemingly impossible as you’re liable to see back-to-back-to-back ads from Morris Bart, Gordon McKernan, Spencer Callahan, Peyton Murphy, and God-knows-who-else). Some of those firms that like to advertise those big awards neglect to mention that their fees (some as high as 40 percent), expert witness fees, court reporter fees and court costs come off the top of those awards even though, I believe, there is a state law now that is supposed to provide full disclosure in the ads but which is ignored for obvious reasons.
What you do see, however, is serious legal work from a capable – and dedicated – staff that, believe it or not, takes its clients’ problems personally.
And so it came to pass that Union Pacific got its comeuppance recently when plaintiff Johnny Taylor and the Smith Law Firm, kicked butt in U.S. District Court’s Middle District in Baton Rouge.
In the Jury Verdict Form completed by the jury, the answers to six questions were:
- Did Plaintiff Johnny Taylor prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he engaged in protected activity under the Federal Railroad Safety Act? Yes.
- Did Plaintiff Johnny Taylor prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his protected activity was a contributing factor to Defendant Union Pacific’s decision to terminate him? Yes.
- Did Union Pacific prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have terminated Plaintiff Johnny Taylor even if he had not engaged in protected activity? No.
- Do you find that Plaintiff Johnny Taylor should be awarded back pay in the amount of $312,349.36? Yes.
- What sum of money, if paid now in cash, would fairly and reasonably compensate Plaintiff Johnny Taylor for the damages, if any, you have found Defendant Union Pacific caused him?
- Past pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life: $300,000.
- Future pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life: $423,000.
- Do you find that Plaintiff Johnny Taylor should be awarded punitive damages? No.
All in all, not too shabby a performance in David’s unheralded skirmish with Goliath.
And not a single tasteless, obnoxious, cheesy lawyer ad to be found to assault your sensibilities.