AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
M. Neches, CPA*
D, Wrobel, MBA, CPA*
termination cases often involve accounting, financial and economic issues.
Expert assistance offered by certified public accountants (“CPAs”)
can be essential in preparing and defending these claims. In this article we
discuss some of the issues which have arisen in our experience as expert
witnesses and consultants in wrongful termination litigation.
usually consult with CPAs only for calculating economic damages. However, we
also can be helpful in the liability phase of trial.
effective way to present or rebut the case for liability is to utilize CPAs to
perform quantitative analyses of the plaintiff’s performance.
can compare the plaintiff’s performance to objective standards such as
contractual goals or quotas, company standards or the performance of
co-workers. In defense of a claim by a terminated telephone operator, for
example, we prepared a statistical analysis demonstrating that the calls
handled per day by the plaintiff were below the company-set standard and less
than those handled by other operators of equivalent training and experience.
The case was settled with a de minimis
evaluating an executive’s job performance, the CPA may analyze the operating
results of the particular division directed by the executive. The analysis
should isolate the executive’s performance from other factors. For example, in
a recent case on behalf of the plaintiff, testimony was presented at trial
regarding our accounting analysis, which showed that the defendant’s financial
statements did not depict accurately the plaintiff’s performance as manager of
a joint venture. Inappropriately allocated corporate overhead made the venture
appear unprofitable, when in fact its performance was outstanding. The
plaintiff prevailed and was awarded compensatory and punitive damages.
are used both by plaintiffs and defendants to determine appropriate economic
damages and present their findings at trial. Important factors normally
are entitled to recover the difference between actual income and income which
would have been earned bad there been no wrongful termination. These damages
may include both actual and future lost earnings.
available, it is preferable to use the historical earnings history of the
plaintiff, rather than statistical averages, as the basis for projecting future
income. Historical earnings information may be obtained from a variety of
sources, including those shown in Table 1.
Historical Earnings Data
promotions and pay
Pay raises for
Value of stock
Forms W-4, tax returns,
regarding lost earnings should be realistic. We may research, for example, whether
or not it is appropriate to assume that past large bonuses would have continued
in the future, promotions would have continued at the same frequency or that
company-paid benefits would continue. These benefits may include health
insurance, life insurance, pension
benefits and employer contributions on investment or retirement plans.
The damage period
is usually determined by the worklife expectancy of the plaintiff. The assumed
damage period typically will have a significant impact on calculated damages.
A good source for
worklife expectancy information are studies prepared by the Bureau of Labor
Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. These studies provide information broken
down by age, sex, education and whether or not the individual is currently
active in the work force.
supplement worklife expectancy averages taken from government publications with
research on the facts and circumstances of the plaintiff’s employment
situation. We compile such information by:
Researching company or industry statistics
Documenting terminations of similar
Reviewing the plaintiff’s retirement
plans, medical records and personnel file
personnel and retirement specialists at the plaintiff’s company.
a recent case the opposing expert retained by a 61-year-old ironworker
testified that the ironworker would have worked unitl age 67, based on national
worklife expectancy tables, To rebut this claim, we interviewed union
representatives, who told us that most union members retired at age 62 and
virtually all by age 65. Review of the union’s pension program confirmed these
observations. From an interview of the jury, which found in favor of the
defendant, the defendant’s attorney learned that the jury was favorably impressed
by this “go to the horse’s mouth” approach.
the damage period is determined, assumed future lost income must be discounted
to present value. The discount rate used significantly impacts the present
value of a damage claim. To determine the discount rate we review the current
yields on low risk or no risk investments such as A-rated bonds or U.S.
Treasury notes. We also assess the risk associated with future receipts of
income, which may depend on projections of future employment and economic
most cases, the plaintiff has the obligation to mitigate losses. That the
plaintiff was unemployed or underemployed subsequent to termination does not
mean necessarily that these earnings are the fair measure of mitigation.
Important factors to be considered when calculating mitigating income may
include the plaintiff’s occupation, age, educational level, sex and race. We
also look at the current and forecasted economic climate in the plaintiff’s
occupation and related fields. These factors often are also important
considerations in determining how long the plaintiff reasonably should have
taken before finding alternative employment.
frequently compile information regarding appropriate mitigating income by:
• Reviewing the plaintiff’s previous
• Using income tables from government
and industry publications
• Surveying the experience of similar
interesting factor to consider may be the potential economic advantages of working less.
The plaintiff may have more time available to devote to a family business,
supervise investments or attend to household chores for which the plaintiff
formerly employed someone else. Staying at home may allow the plaintiff’s
spouse to work or may allow the plaintiff to reduce expenses such as child
care, travel and home maintenance.
Opposition’s Damage Claim
retained by either plaintiff or defendant should analyze thoroughly the
opposition’s claim and point out errors and overreaching assumptions. This remains
true whether or not you agree with the opposition’s methodologies. Critical
analysis of the opposition’s damages claim may convince the judge or jury to
adjust the amount of the damage award in your client’s favor.
Table 2 lists several
errors often found in wrongful termination damages analyses. In our experience
such errors occasionally deliberate.
Common Errors in Wrongful
Termination Damage Claims
and rounding errors
Errors of Fact
worked per year
of “disabilities” caused by termination
commissions or bonuses
of relevant companies
or using tables incorrectly
including mitigating income
to discount assumed future losses
inappropriate items in lost earnings
offer valuable assistance in wrongful termination litigation. CPAs can help
attorneys establish or refute liability and determine the amount of damage
award. In preparing their analyses CPAs normally should supplement statistical
averages regarding factors such as worklife expectancy, fringe benefits and
alternative employment by reviewing the plaintiff’s individual work history,
company and industry.
*Thomas M. Neches,
CPA and Peter D. Wrobel, MBA, CPA are partners at Simpson & Company,
located in Los Angeles, California. Simpson & Company specializes in
litigation services, which include investigative accounting, damage claims and
expert witness testimony. Mr. Neches and Mr. Wrobel have been retained as
expert witnesses and consultants on numerous wrongful termination cases.