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Jury awarded bank manager $1.6 million for discrimination. Judge said it was too much

Barbara Barkley talks with her lawyers, Todd Barsotti, center, and Stephen Cornwell, during a break in her wrongful termination civil trial against Bank of the West in Fresno County Superior Court. In March 2017, a jury awarded Barkley $1.68 million in damages. Judge Jeffrey Hamilton, however, in May gutted the award by $904,500, saying it was excessive.
Barbara Barkley talks with her lawyers, Todd Barsotti, center, and Stephen Cornwell, during a break in her wrongful termination civil trial against Bank of the West in Fresno County Superior Court. In March 2017, a jury awarded Barkley $1.68 million in damages. Judge Jeffrey Hamilton, however, in May gutted the award by $904,500, saying it was excessive. Fresno Bee file

A Superior Court judge has gutted a jury award of $1.68 million in damages to a former Fresno bank manager who successfully proved in a civil trial in March that the Bank of the West fired her because of her age.

In his ruling, Judge Jeffrey Hamilton said the jury award of $1,029,500 for emotional distress that was given to Barbara Barkley was excessive. Instead, Hamilton awarded Barkley $125,000 in damages. The judge, however, kept intact the jury award of $650,800 to Barkley for past and future loss of income.

Barbara Barkley was 61 years old when Bank of the West terminated her at the beginning of 2014. In a civil trial in March this year, her lawyers contended that she claimed a new branch manager fired her because he hoped to replace her with a younger, prettier assistant manager. Barkley also contended her new boss retaliated against her after she filed a harassment claim against him with the company’s human resources department.

In the trial, lawyers for Bank of the West argued Barkley was fired due to various violations of company policy.

In reducing the jury’s award, Hamilton said there was no professional diagnosis of Barkley suffering from an emotional or psychiatric disorder, no evidence she ever took medication for an emotional disorder and no evidence of hospitalization or shock therapy.

Hamilton did not fault the jury for the high award; he contended that Barkley’s lawyers made an improper closing argument by asserting that that jurors should punish Bank of the West. The argument was improper, judge said, because punitive damages were part of the trial. But by making the argument, Hamilton said, the jury likely focused on the “big bad bank” rather than the emotional distressed suffered by Barkley from her job loss.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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