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.
Two plaintiffs win at trial and, on appeal, achieve differing results. In the First Circuit, a Title VII plaintiff improves on her win by persuading the court (with an assist from the EEOC as amicus) that the number of employees in the "current or preceding calendar year" - for purposes of setting the damage cap under 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3) - is based on the number of employees at the time of the act of discrimination, rather than at the time of trial. In the Fifth Circuit, the employee keeps her Equal Pay Act award, but loses a state statutory wage claim.
On March 1, 2011, the Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit's grant of judgment as a matter of law for the employer in a Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) case (131 S. Ct. 1186 (2011)), where a jury found the company liable for discrimination under that act. In an unpublished coda, the Seventh Circuit remands the case for a new trial, and along the way tweaks the high court's opinion a bit.
The First Circuit affirms a Title VII/Puerto Rican law verdict for the plaintiff, though remitting the award from $800,000 to nearly $450,000. The holding demonstrates that a half-hearted management response to sex harassment complaints can be as bad as no response at all.
A split jury verdict, of a kind now common in Title VII cases, is affirmed in full (in a non-precedential decision) by a 2-1 panel of the Tenth Circuit. The jury rejected the employee's gender discrimination claim, while awarding her $3 million in compensatory damages on her retaliation claim. The district court capped the award at $300,000, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3), but added $89,877 in back pay, and the Tenth Circuit remands for an award of attorneys' fees.