Late last week (when, of course, I was out of the office), word came down about another large verdict in an employment law case in Connecticut. The verdict, composed of $1M in compensatory damages and $3M in punitive damages in Tucker v. Journal Register Co. was first reported by the Connecticut Post last Friday here. (H/T Jottings blog)
Long time readers of the blog may recall my discussion of the employer’s summary judgment motion and the court’s decision back in November 2007. In my posts back then (which can be found here and here). I talked about how the former employee alleged that her employer terminated her employment because she was opposed to testifying as a favorable witness in the company’s defense of another employee against whom a sexual harassment complaint had been filed. the employer denied the claims and said that she had been fired for misusing an office telephone in which collect calls were accepted.
The case went to trial on two legal claims: 1) retaliation under Title VII as a person who participated or opposed a discriminatory practice, and 2) Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 31-51q, which applies the First Amendment to private employers. You can download the trial memorandum here.
The Court’s docket sheet hasn’t yet been updated with some of the nitty gritty and I hope to followup with some more information about what happened during the trial. For instance, the employer moved for judgment as a matter of law during the trial and the court has taken that motion under advisement. I would certainly expect post-verdict motions to occur — even before an expected appeal (though it is unclear what the grounds would be). According to Tucker’s attorney, the jury found against the employer on both claims.
Tucker’s attorney, Jeff Bagnell, was understandably pleased with the multi-million dollar verdict:
We were very pleased with the jury’s verdict. It sent a clear message that you can’t retaliate against an employee who is going to tell the truth in a legal case. This excellent jury showed that people still care about the oath and what it means. Thank God for the Seventh Amendment.
This case demonstrates once again that retaliation claims and 31-51q claims are among the more dangerous type of employment law claims out there. And although there aren’t hard numbers out there on this, the damages that juries in Connecticut are awarding on such claims seem be on the increase.
What does this mean for employers? It’s yet another reminder to treat all claims of retaliation seriously. And consider settlement of such claims when the opportunity arises. No matter how strongly an employer feels about the claims, once the claims go to a jury, there is always a risk of loss — no matter how strong the facts may appear to be to the employer.