As we approach the final stretch of 2011, I can report two more appeals of race discrimination cases where the plaintiffs (more or less) came out on top. In the Fifth Circuit, the panel reverses summary judgment in a Title VII reverse-race termination case, finding that the plaintiff succeeded in building a plausible claim that her employer lied about the reasons for her termination. And in the Eleventh Circuit, a now-15 year-old, § 1981 case - which took an intervening trip to the U.S. Supreme Court - comes to what may be its final resting place, with the plaintiff keeping a winning verdict and judgment, while losing $1 million in punitive damages.
Can increased scrutiny at work, including a disciplinary letter (later withdrawn), constitute a "materially adverse action" for a claim under Title VII's anti-retaliation provision, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a)? A jury said "yes," to the tune of a $500,000 judgment, but the Second Circuit - in a 2-1 decision - sides with the district court on these facts, and says "no."
An age discrimination plaintiff wins a $48,000 judgment at trial, only to lose it - in a 2-1 vote - before a panel of the Fifth Circuit, which holds that judgment should have been entered for the employer on limitations grounds. As Judge Higginbotham's dissent points out, the issue of who decides such issues is paramount.
In a highly unusual development, a panel of the Fifth Circuit reverses itself in an employment discrimination case, in favor of the plaintiff. It had previously affirmed a Rule 50 judgment as a matter of law granted to the employer - a public hospital - in a § 1981 race discrimination case, but in a two-page per curiam order, it announces that it is vacating and remanding the case back for trial.
A jury finds that a promising woman neurosurgeon was bumped off-track by a campaign of sex harassment and retaliation, in violation of Title VII and Massachusettes civil rights law. The First Circuit affirms awards of $600,000 against the Hospital in compensatory damages on the retaliation claim and $1,000,000 in compensatory damages against it on the hostile work environment claim (with lesser awards for other state law claims), and $1,352,525.94 in attorneys' fees.
Today we log two wins for ADA "regarded as" disability discrimination claimants. In the First Circuit, the panel holds that a district court too hastily dismissed a complaint of disability discrimination, alleging that the employer refused to assign a mentally-ill employee anywhere in the workplace. In the Sixth Circuit, the panel (in an unpublished opinion) astoundingly overturns a jury verdict for the employer - and orders entry of judgment for the employee - where the company placed the plaintiff on involuntary medical leave based solely on an unclear state-court order and without an independent examination of the employee.
Here's our first published opinion addressing the recently-decided Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 131 S. Ct. 1186 (2011), in the context of a fully-tried case. The Third Circuit holds in this Title VII case that the district court did not err in denying judgment as a matter of law for the city. It concludes that the jury could have found that the plaintiff's Police Board of Inquiry hearings (which led to his termination) did not break the chain of causation from the retaliatory write-up that commenced the disciplinary process.
A Fifth Circuit panel unanimously affirms a jury verdict for a woman sales representative who suffered discrimination in compensation and termination, in violation of Title VII and Texas state law. The panel divides, though, on the question of the appropriate back pay remedy. It also divides on the question of how to apply the compensatory and punitive damage caps in a multiclaim case under 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)
One of the critical stages in many disability discrimination cases is when the employee gets a new manager or supervisor, who does not understand - or is insensitive to - an accommodation formerly extended to a person with a disability. As this First Circuit case reveals, a botched switch in the gears can create a triable issue of fact for a jury about whether the employee was denied reasonable accommodations.
After a fired employee wins a $289,669 jury verdict in an Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) retaliation case, the district court takes it away on a motion for judgment as a matter of law, on the ground that the plaintiff did not present sufficient evidence that the claimed retaliation (reshuffling her accounts) actually caused her termination three years later. The D.C. Circuit affirms. The case presents a cautionary tale for a plaintiff who claims that a loss/reassignment of accounts caused further, more serious harm down the road.