A Dallas jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in US district court. In an age discrimination case, the jury awarded the plaintiff employee lost pay and benefits of $500,000, liquidated damages of $500,000, mental anguish damages of $1,000,000, punitive damages of $15,00,000, front pay and attorney’s fees to be determined later by the judge. Under Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, punitive damages are capped at $300,000. So, the punitive damages will be reduced probably to $300,000. But, this large amount of punitive damages is still remarkable.
When a jury becomes angry, they will award large amounts. The McDonald’s spilled coffee case is often referred to as a "runaway jury." But, in that case, the McDonald’s executive who testified came across as arrogant. And, there was evidence that McDonald’s knew their coffee posed significant risk, yet the corporation had taken no precautions. When a jury becomes angry, they will award large amounts.
Same thing apparently occurred here in Miller v. Raytheon, No. 3:09-CV-0440 (N.D. Texas 2010). The defendant changed their reasons for the adverse personnel action several times. The employer claimed for the first time at trial that it had offered the employee two jobs that had never been disclosed before.
Perhaps more damaging, however, was Raytheon’s claims to the EEOC that it had offered the employee several job openings before selecting him for a RIF. There was no evidence to support Raytheon’s claim and the employee denied he had been offered any such positions. The company also claimed the employee refused to look for new jobs, despite knowing that claim was false. There had actually been several discussions between Mr. Miller and Human Resources regarding possible other jobs.
Juries do not like being lied to. Once an employer makes statements to the EEOC, those statements become part of the record and cannot be withdrawn. Fortunately for Raytheon, Title VII punitive damages are capped at $300,000. Otherwise, they would be looking at a huge judgment, a judgment caused not by some legal technicality, but by plain fabrication.