JeffCo Jury Awards $1.4 Million to Whistle-Blower

Sandra Simmons will never forget the moment General Steel fired her.

 

She was driving to the intensive care unit to see her younger sister, who was dying of kidney and liver failure, when the company informed her over the telephone.

 

"I figure someone who did that would do just about anything," said Simmons.

 

Simmons, 48, lost her job for blowing the whistle on fraudulent activities within the company.

 

Late Friday, a Jefferson County jury awarded her $1.4 million for standing up to her company, which she accused of illegal sales practices.  

 

General Steel Corp., a Lakewood-based company that sells steel buildings, is no stranger to the courtroom.

 

In 2007, the company agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle a consumer-protection case.

The Colorado attorney general's office sued the company in 2003, claiming the company used deceptive sales tactics by falsely implying that it sold buildings at factory-direct or clearance prices.

 

Simmons joined General Steel in January 2003 to manage the accounting department.

She found several irregularities, and after pointing them out to company owner Jeffrey W. Knight, he fired her in May 2003.

 

General Steel did not return a phone call Monday seeking a comment.

 

Mari Newman of the law firm Killmer, Lane & Newman, which represented Simmons, called the award a fair one.

 

"I think it is due entirely to the jury wanting to tell this corporation and its owner that the community does not approve of what it is doing," Newman said.

 

"(Simmons) really stuck her neck out by coming forward against this corporate company and its owner, who have a consistent history of trying to crush anyone who criticizes them," she said. "She's truly a courageous woman."

 

After a trial that began June 23, the jury ruled in Simmons' favor on each of her eight claims against General Steel, which included charges of wrongful discharge, fraud and outrageous conduct.

 

Before the jury's readings, Simmons said her lawyers advised her to keep her emotions intact as rulings were announced.

 

Simmons said she felt immediate relief as the verdict was read.

 

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "When they finished reading the jury's decisions, I turned to my attorney and said, 'Can I smile now?'"

 

Simmons currently lives outside of Houston with her husband, Shelby, and her son, David.

 

"I celebrated by coming home to my family. We're not counting our chickens until they're hatched," she said. 

 

 

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