In one recent case, the employer did not move for summary judgment or otherwise seek to dismiss. The case was filed by Jamel Blanton, Arica-American, and alleged racial and sexual discrimination. The female restaurant manager was accused of saying such things as: “do all black guys have big penises?” “What I would do for you if you were well endowed.” She made some rather graphic comments.
Mr. Blanton said he complained to various lower level managers, but nothing was done. Later, he complained to the owner of the Pizza Hut restaurant, and the offending manager was fired. Later, Mr. Blanton had to become a cook, because it was found his driver’s license had expired. His hours as a cook were reduced and he felt he had to quit. The jury found he was subjected to racial and sex based discrimination by the female manager. But, found the jury, the employer took prompt action regarding his complaint. The jury also found that the employee did not take advantage of the complaint procedure. So, they found in favor of the employer. The trial lasted three days.
After the jury verdict, the plaintiff moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (meaning that the verdict was simply wrong and not supported by the evidence), arguing that Pizza Hut failed to show its anti-discrimination policy was effective. There was no evidence of any training regarding the policy. The employer simply provided a copy of the policy at trial and no evidence regarding its effectiveness. But, the court disagreed, saying there is no authority for a requirement that there be more to a policy than the fact of its existence. The plaintiff also argued there was no evidence of training on the policy. Training would be wise, said the court, but there is no authority requiring training on anti-harassment policies. And, since the restaurant did fire the manager soon after the complaint, the jury could find that the policy was effective. And, while the plaintiff delayed reporting the harassment to persons higher than his manager, for fear of retaliation, the jury could find that his delay was not warranted. See Blanton v. Pizza Hut of San Antonio, No. 12-CV-1103, 2014 WL 888344 (W.D. Tex. 1/14/2014).
The jury did submit one note to the court, suggesting it was engaging in active deliberations. It did award the Plaintiff $1500 in compensatory (emotional suffering) damages. That award had no legal effect since the jury had already found the employer took prompt remedial action regarding Mr. Blanton’s complaint. But, it helps show the conservative tendencies of juries in federal court. Even when they award compensatory damages, the amounts are very low.
The result highlights the difficult of quitting a job when you may have a discrimination lawsuit. Title VII and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act both provide for lost back pay if a worker is fired or suffers some adverse personnel action. Caselaw finds that voluntary quitting is not an adverse personnel action. Yes, there are times when a worker must quit or thinks s/he must quit. But, courts generally view those sorts of resignations skeptically. Here, the employer never moved for dismissal or for summary judgment. So, the court’s skepticism was not tested. But, the jury was essentially asked if Mr. Blanton had to quit and in general terms, the jury said no.
The trial also highlights the benefit of prompt remedial action. The employee delayed reporting to any significant level due to his fear of reprisal. The jury was not persuaded that his fear was well-founded. Federal juries are rather conservative. Juries in general prefer not be at the courthouse. They live busy lives. So, if you keep them in trial, you need to persuade them first that you have a very good reason.