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Punitive award stripped where retaliation but no actual damages found

 

What kind of retaliatory conduct in employment supports a $1.1M punitive verdict?

Not this kind.   KIELY v TERADYNE, INC.  85 Mass App Ct 431 (2014)

FACTS
Kiely worked for Teradyne for decades and her job duties advanced from equipment repair to administrative work. Kiely and two male co-workers were the last of 31 people to be laid off. Kiely filed a gender discrimination claim at the Mass Commission Against Discrimination.
Soon after that, two jobs opened in another Teradyne department. Kiely’s two male co-workers were hired, Kiely was not. The hiring manager, who said he did not know of the earlier discrimination claim, was instructed to “document the hiring decision” although this was an unusual request.
The jury decided after eight days of testimony that there had been no discrimination in failing to rehire Kiely, that there had been retaliation against her for making the earlier claim but that she had suffered no actual damages. The jury however awarded $1.1 million in punitive damages. The trial judge eliminated the punitive damage award and denied Kiely’s claim for attorney’s fees.
ISSUE
Was it appropriate for the Court to strip away punitive damages verdict based on the mild inference of retaliation where the jury found no actual damages?
RULING
No punitive damages on this evidence.
REASONS
Punitive damages are a kind of public condemnation and require stronger evidence of outrageous conduct, evil motive or reckless indifference than was shown by this plaintiff’s evidence.
Instructing someone to “document their hiring decision” is weak evidence of wrongdoing. The jury found no actual harm and awarded no compensatory damages. Here there was no  finding of heightened wrongdoing.

Chuck Cobb’s Comment

  • This case is an employer’s nightmare because a jury put $1m in punitive damages in a case where they found retaliation but no discrimination, no actual damages.
  • This case is an employment lawyer’s nightmare because the jury found retaliation but the judge stripped out the $1.1M punitive damage verdict and denied the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.

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Charles W. Cobb

Attorney at Law


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