The Sixth Circuit chalks up a big win for the EEOC, affirming a jury verdict for four employees awarding compensatory and punitive damages totaling over $1.5 million. The court upholds the rule that telling a sexually-harassing supervisor to cut-it-out is protected "opposition" activity under Title VII, and will support a claim for retaliation. The opinion also highlights the kind of trouble employers can get into when they fail to treat temporary employees as a full-fledged part of the workforce.
For anyone under a misimpression that our nation has totally vanquished racial discrimination in employment, the Second Circuit today affirms a $1.32 million compensatory award by a jury to an African-American employee subjected to scarifying harassment at a steel plant. It also upholds a punitive-damage verdict, though it orders a remittitur of the award of no more than a 2:1 ratio with compensatory damages (about $2.65 million).
The Ninth Circuit, ruling en banc, overrules a prior panel decision and holds that the BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), ratio test for excessiveness of punitive damages is essentially unnecessary for evaluating a capped award under Title VII governed by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D).
A Florida federal jury holds a union and county liable for retaliation against two employees for complaining about race discrimination. The Union argues on appeal that retaliation -- in the form of exposing the plaintiffs' names, complaint and projected cost of defense -- is constitutionally-protected free speech. The Eleventh Circuit affirms the verdict, nevertheless, holding that misleading and coercive speech amounting to a "call for reprisal" is not protected under the First Amendment.
In this case, a white employee sues and wins at a jury trial over a claim that he was terminated by his employer for speaking up - in support of African-American coworkers - against a racially-hostile work environment. The Eighth Circuit affirms a judgment of $60,000 compensatory damages and $30,608 in back pay in his favor, but refuses him reinstatement or front pay.
The Fifth Circuit, in a 10-6 en banc decision, affirms a jury verdict in favor of the government on a male iron worker's claim that he was sexually harassed by a male supervisor on a nearly-daily basis at his worksite, the Twin Spans bridges between New Orleans and Slidell, Louisiana. The full court considers what an employee must prove to establish that a hostile-work-environment is "because . . . of sex," and whether the incident here was severe or pervasive. Meanwhile, the six dissenters between them contribute four separate opinions, lashing out at every aspect of the majority's interpretation of the record and Title VII law.
Here's a nice David-v.-Goliath case, where a nanny goes after her former employers for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(a) and Florida, Fla. Const. Art. 10, § 24(e). Not only did the nanny prevail at trial (with a $33,025 jury verdict), but on appeal she wins the right to pursue double ("liquidated") damages, and an addition al year of lost wages, in a second trial.
In a review of a $17 million jury verdict in an age discrimination case (significantly reduced by the district court judge), the Fifth Circuit issues an important decision about who gets to decide the award for future pension benefits - the bench or jury - and whether the monetary equivalent of such benefits is subject to doubling as "liquidated damages" under the ADEA. It also deviates from recent case law of other circuits in holding that a $100,000 emotional distress damage award cannot be sustained without medical testimony.
Two recent decisions from the Eighth Circuit serve as a reminder that employment discrimination and retaliation cases are being tried and employees are winning. In Hudson, the Court affirms a nearly $180,000 jury verdict in a Title VII and ADA discrimination case, including $100,000 in emotional distress damages. In Al-Birekdar, the court upholds a $200,000 verdict for retaliation under the Missouri Human Rights Act.
The Seventh Circuit, per Judge Richard Posner, reminds the lower courts once again that private-sector employees do not have an administrative "exhaustion" requirement under Title VII, and that disputed issues of fact about limitations periods belong to a jury, not the judge.