I try to warn clients all the time that juries are fickle. A party can have the best evidence and still lose. One recent case illustrates that reality. In Alexander v. Servisair, LLC, No. H-12-817 (S.D. Tex. 2013), the plaintiff alleged that she had been terminated for pursuing her rights to sick leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Darlene Alexander was out on extended FMLA leave when the employer fired her. The employer claimed she had failed to return to work and had abandoned her job. Yet, she had submitted the proper FMLA paper work and had been approved for leave. The case ought to be "open and shut." The employer fired her for a clearly false reason while she was still out on FMLA leave.
After a two day trial, the jury found that the employer did indeed interfere with the employee’s attempt to take leave. It found the employer did not act in good faith in dealing with the employee’s request for sick leave. Yet, the jury awarded a mere $1 in damages.
The employee presented undisputed evidence that she had lost $37,000 in income due to the employer’s termination. The jury found the employer did not act in good faith in terminating Ms. Alexander. So, it should have awarded liquidated damages equal to the amount of the lost pay. So, the jury should have awarded $37,000 twice, once for lost pay and once for liquidated damages. And, the employer presented no evidence suggesting the plaintiff did not mitigate her damages. Yet, the jury only awarded $1 in damages. It is a crazy verdict that makes little sense.
Responding to a motion by the plaintiff, the judge later awarded $37,000 in lost pay and another $37,000 in liquidated damages. The judge also awarded some $92,000 in attorney’s fees. The judge, in effect, rectified the jury’s error. But, the employer has appealed.
We like to think that juries consider carefully each case that comes before it. But, in reality, many jury members do not wish to be in court. They have many other obligations. Perhaps, some jurors traded a vote of "Yes" on a couple of questions, so they could all go home more quickly. That is so unfortunate. Jury duty is one of our hallmarks as citizens of a great Republic. We need to give jury duty the respect it deserves.