As one blogger posted over the weekend: Its tough to try employment cases around Christmas time. Just ask the City of New Haven.

Late last week, a jury in the Superior Court jury awarded $500,000 to a man who was turned down for a job in the city public works department.  He never actually lost his job, mind you.  But  The New Haven Independent has the details in a report:

Wrapping up a trial in New Haven Superior Court Wednesday, a jury found that members of the city public works department violated the constitutional rights of Casper Vollero Jr. when they turned him down for a laborer position in 2003. Vollero, who is white and lives in North Haven, filed an age and race discrimination suit after he was passed over for the job in favor of two younger black and Hispanic applicants.

Vollero, who’s 63, wept in relief upon hearing the verdict, according to his attorney, Diane Polan…. Vollero currently works for the city parks department. …

“In this case, the jury found that Mr. Vollero was the victim of illegal race discrimination because the Public Works department maintained an unwritten quota system, in which one-third of the jobs went to white applicants, one-third went to black applicants and one-third went to Hispanic applicants,” Polan wrote in a press statement.

For the record, the City denied the charges and indicated it will appeal in this report from AP report:

City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga called the verdict “an egregious ruling.”
“We do not agree with the judgment, and we believe the amount is excessive. We will appeal the decision,” Mayorga said.

Because the employee does not appear to have been fired, the amount of his damages — mainly compensatory (pain and suffering) and punitive damages — is certainly high.  However, because the Superior Court dockets are not available online, its difficult to find out additional specifics at this time.

Nonetheless, the decision highlights another important point for employers engaged in litigation: Juries can be unpredictable. Even cases that do not appear to have any significant financial value can turn into significant cases in front of juries. 

Thus, in employment matters, anytime you, as an employer, are willing to "go to court to prove our point", just be prepared to take your lumps if the jury disagrees with you.