A jury in state court awarded $240,000 to a detective with the Austin, Texas Police Department. Amy Lynch sued the department for discrimination. Ms. Lynch was a long-time law enforcement officer who was diagnosed with narcolepsy in 2009. Soon after, she was transferred from her high profile assignment in the Human Trafficking and Vice unit to Firearms, a less prestigious position. She was then later denied her accommodation of coming to work at 10:00 a.m. She received a poor evaluation and then went out on FMLA leave. While out on leave she was told she was being dismissed from the Firearms division and she would have to find a new position. And, oh by the way, she would have to pass a new fitness for duty examination. She passed that exam in 2011. It did not address her narcolepsey. So, the Chief ordered a second exam. She passed the second exam. But, she was still not offered a position.
Ms. Lynch filed suit in 2012. She filed her first EEOC charge in 2011 and her second in 2013. With no explanation, the Chief offered her a position in Burglary in January, 2014 with the accommodation that she could start work at 9:00 a.m. and not work nights. That was very close to her requested accommodation.
The state court jury deliberated all day after three days of testimony. It then awarded her $220,000 in lost pay and benefits and $20,000 in emotional suffering damages. See Austin Chronicle report. The general public does not appreciate that discrimination cases do not typically result in large verdicts. This case shows how often a jury will award an appropriate amount for lost pay and benefits. But, when it comes time to award emotional suffering type damages, the jury becomes very conservative. It also shows what can happen when an employer can “see the light” and reconsider an earlier, discriminatory termination. The jury surely took the Austin Police Department’s change of heart into consideration when it awarded a relatively small amount for emotional suffering.
But, the claim for attorney’s fees will surely be north of six figures. Discrimination cases require a tremendous amount of attorney time.