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District Court upholds jury award against GM

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A U.S. District judge chastised General Motors for the way the company treated its salaried employees who gave up being under union protection and later wanted to rejoin the union as hourly workers. In an opinion released Aug. 15, Judge David Hamilton of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, upheld a $3.1 jury award against GM for promissory estoppel claims, finding the plaintiffs had provided sufficient evidence to prove their Sixth Amendment claim against the company.

Judge Hamilton ruled on GM's motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial in Harold Burton, et al. v. General Motors Corporation, No. 1:95-CV-1054-DFH-TAB, and denied both motions. The District Court also denied GM's motion to strike the plaintiffs' demand for a jury trial.

The plaintiffs were five employees at the Allison Engine Division of GM who originally worked in hourly, union-protected positions and were recruited by GM to take jobs as first-line supervisors. As supervisors, they were no longer organized under the union and were told by GM they could return to the hourly, unionized positions if they desired. However, once GM decided to sell Allison Engine, it froze transfers back to the union positions without telling supervisors.

After more than 10 years of litigation to decide whether state or federal laws applied to the plaintiffs' claims, their Sixth Amendment complaint for promissory estoppel and fraud was allowed to proceed to a jury trial in 2008. The jury found the plaintiffs proved their promissory estoppel claims, but not the fraud claims, and awarded the plaintiffs more than $3 million.

GM moved for a judgment as a matter of law, arguing multiple errors were made with regard to the plaintiffs' promissory estoppel claims and the jury award of damages was improper. GM also sought a new trial on those grounds.

Judge Hamilton denied GM's motions, finding the plaintiffs provided ample evidence to show GM planned to sell Allison Engine and deceptively prevented the plaintiffs from returning to their hourly positions before the sale.

"Plaintiffs' evidence was powerful and compelling. General Motors' defenses were weak attempts to evade responsibility for the promises it had made to some of its best and most important employees to persuade them to give up the security and benefits they had had under the union's protection," wrote Judge Hamilton. "To the extent the company has a conscience, General Motors and its management should be ashamed of the way they treated these employees."
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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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