What Sayeth The Jury?
A little more than a year ago, jury trials screeched to a halt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the year, courts across the country grappled with when and how to hold jury trials again. Some courts held trials by Zoom. Other courts continued to hold jury trials in person while using a variety of safeguards to protect the jurors and parties.
Now that more courts are opening up, everyone is curious to see what impact the pandemic has had on juries and how they view cases.
Jurors are speaking—and they are speaking loudly with their verdicts.
In recent months, in four employment trials, jurors have hit employers with eye-popping seven figure verdicts.
These verdicts include:
- $6.85 million jury verdict against FedEx Freight in Seattle for disability discrimination and retaliation.
- A $3 million jury verdict for disability discrimination against Union Pacific Railroad Coat in Idaho.
- A more than $2 million jury verdict to a Burger King employee in a disability discrimination case.
- A $4 million jury verdict in a sex discrimination case in Dallas, Texas.
What is the reason for these recent seven figure jury verdicts in employment cases? No one knows.
However, what is interesting is that three all involved disabled workers. It is possible that the pandemic has driven home just how important it is for every person –even those with disabilities—to have the right to work and to support their families.
Juries seems to have lost patience with employers who won’t allow people who want to work the opportunity to work.
This is not the final word on these cases. Most of these cases will likely be appealed. And, in most of these cases, statutory damages caps will reduce the awards.
For example, in the FedEx case in Seattle, the jury verdict awarded about $5 million in punitive damages. However, because those damages were subject to a statutory cap of $300,000, those damages were reduced by the court.
In each case, the prevailing plaintiff can seek attorney’s fees and those fees will likely add substantial amounts to the verdicts. In the FedEx case, the court awarded attorney’s fees and costs of $1.1 million to the winning plaintiff’s lawyer.
We don’t know what is causing this trend of very significant verdicts in the employment cases that have gone to trial in recent months. However, jurors are sending employers a message.
Whether employers receive the message remains to be seen.