Federal Appeals Court Upholds 20 Year Front Pay Award (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)

January 1, 1997 Advisory
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The federal appeals court whose decisions are binding in Connecticut recently upheld a 20 year front pay award to a victim of retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Stephen Padilla convinced a jury that his employer, the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, retaliated against him for participation in an EEOC age discrimination investigation.

The Facts
Padilla was superintendent of train operations when a subordinate who was over 60 years of age was demoted. Although Padilla thought the demoted employee had done "an excellent job," Padilla's supervisor insisted on the demotion.

The demoted employee filed a claim of age discrimination. When Padilla was interviewed by an investigator from EEOC, he said that although he did not know why his supervisor had demoted the employee, he did not think it was because of age. Padilla added, however, that the employee was doing a good job and his supervisor had told him that some of these "old guys" cannot stand the stress. In addition, Padilla told the EEOC investigator that his supervisor had said that the demoted employee had "old working habits."

According to Padilla, after his interview with the EEOC investigator, his supervisor accused him of being "disloyal" and told him that he was "all done." Approximately one month after Padilla spoke to the EEOC investigator and after he was accused of being disloyal, his department's time sheets were audited and discrepancies were found. Based on these discrepancies, Padilla was initially suspended and then demoted to train dispatcher, with a salary cut of over $20,000.

At the trial Padilla introduced evidence that no other department head had been disciplined for similar discrepancies and that other managers had not been disciplined for more egregious errors in their department's record keeping.

The Price of Retaliation
The jury found for Padilla and concluded that he had been discriminated against in retaliation for his statements to the EEOC, giving him a standard back pay award. The jury also found that Metro-North had wilfully violated the ADEA and awarded liquidated damages as permitted by the statute, i.e., doubled the back pay award.

Although Padilla also requested reinstatement to his former position as an additional remedy, the trial court denied the request, concluding that this would be "unworkable" because of the animosity generated by the lawsuit. As an alternative to reinstatement, the court ordered the discretionary remedy of front pay in the amount of the difference between what Padilla earns as train dispatcher and the amount paid to the superintendent of train operations, to be paid until Padilla reaches the age of 67 and becomes entitled to a full pension.

The trial court explained that it granted this remedy to Padilla, who was in his forties, because there was no evidence that Padilla would be able to find work commensurate with his experience and skills at a salary equal to what he received as superintendent of train operations.

The employer appealed the trial court's decision and argued that awarding front pay for more than 20 years was "grossly out of line." The Second Circuit disagreed and held that awards of front pay for substantial periods of time are sometimes necessary to provide complete relief for victims of discrimination.

Although the ADEA permits awards of front pay as an alternative to reinstatement, such awards are discretionary with the Court and are usually of much shorter duration. This Second Circuit decision, upholding more than 20 years of front pay, is particularly distressing, not only because of the duration, but because of its presumption that victims of discrimination are otherwise unemployable, and that it is the employer's burden to show otherwise if it wants to avoid massive front pay awards.

At a minimum, the Padilla decision will undoubtedly make employment discrimination suits in Connecticut more expensive. By approving such a large award, plaintiffs will be less inclined to compromise their demands thereby raising the stakes for all involved.

The federal appeals court whose decisions are binding in Connecticut recently upheld a 20 year front pay award to a victim of retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Stephen Padilla convinced a jury that his employer, the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, retaliated against him for participation in an EEOC age discrimination investigation.

The Facts
Padilla was superintendent of train operations when a subordinate who was over 60 years of age was demoted. Although Padilla thought the demoted employee had done "an excellent job," Padilla's supervisor insisted on the demotion.

The demoted employee filed a claim of age discrimination. When Padilla was interviewed by an investigator from EEOC, he said that although he did not know why his supervisor had demoted the employee, he did not think it was because of age. Padilla added, however, that the employee was doing a good job and his supervisor had told him that some of these "old guys" cannot stand the stress. In addition, Padilla told the EEOC investigator that his supervisor had said that the demoted employee had "old working habits."

According to Padilla, after his interview with the EEOC investigator, his supervisor accused him of being "disloyal" and told him that he was "all done." Approximately one month after Padilla spoke to the EEOC investigator and after he was accused of being disloyal, his department's time sheets were audited and discrepancies were found. Based on these discrepancies, Padilla was initially suspended and then demoted to train dispatcher, with a salary cut of over $20,000.

At the trial Padilla introduced evidence that no other department head had been disciplined for similar discrepancies and that other managers had not been disciplined for more egregious errors in their department's record keeping.

The Price of Retaliation
The jury found for Padilla and concluded that he had been discriminated against in retaliation for his statements to the EEOC, giving him a standard back pay award. The jury also found that Metro-North had wilfully violated the ADEA and awarded liquidated damages as permitted by the statute, i.e., doubled the back pay award.

Although Padilla also requested reinstatement to his former position as an additional remedy, the trial court denied the request, concluding that this would be "unworkable" because of the animosity generated by the lawsuit. As an alternative to reinstatement, the court ordered the discretionary remedy of front pay in the amount of the difference between what Padilla earns as train dispatcher and the amount paid to the superintendent of train operations, to be paid until Padilla reaches the age of 67 and becomes entitled to a full pension.

The trial court explained that it granted this remedy to Padilla, who was in his forties, because there was no evidence that Padilla would be able to find work commensurate with his experience and skills at a salary equal to what he received as superintendent of train operations.

The employer appealed the trial court's decision and argued that awarding front pay for more than 20 years was "grossly out of line." The Second Circuit disagreed and held that awards of front pay for substantial periods of time are sometimes necessary to provide complete relief for victims of discrimination.

Although the ADEA permits awards of front pay as an alternative to reinstatement, such awards are discretionary with the Court and are usually of much shorter duration. This Second Circuit decision, upholding more than 20 years of front pay, is particularly distressing, not only because of the duration, but because of its presumption that victims of discrimination are otherwise unemployable, and that it is the employer's burden to show otherwise if it wants to avoid massive front pay awards.

At a minimum, the Padilla decision will undoubtedly make employment discrimination suits in Connecticut more expensive. By approving such a large award, plaintiffs will be less inclined to compromise their demands thereby raising the stakes for all involved.