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Fired theater worker entitled to new trial on back pay

Fired theater worker entitled to new trial on back pay

Successful plaintiffs in discrimination litigation are entitled to back pay for the amount they would have earned if they had not been unlawfully terminated, while prejudgment interest on the back pay owed is almost always appropriate, said a divided federal appeals court in ordering a new trial on damages for a plaintiff.

David Pittington worked for Great Smoky Mountain Lumberjack Feud L.L.C., a theater company in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for five months in 2012 until he was fired in retaliation for supporting his wife, who was also a Lumberjack employee, in her sexual harassment complaint against the theater company, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in David Pittington v. Great Smoky Lumberjack Feud L.L.C.

Before being fired, Mr. Pittington allegedly suffered additional hardships, including being demoted and being made to work in an unheated outdoor shack, according to the ruling.

Mr. Pittington sued the theater company charging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state law. At trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, Tennessee, although his attorney asked the jury to award Mr. Pittington $41,000 in back pay, it awarded him just $10,000 and no compensatory or punitive damages.

Mr. Pittington asked the court to award him 10% in prejudgment interest, the maximum allowed by Tennessee law. The court instead awarded him 0.66% in interest based on the federal statute related to post-judgment interest.

On appeal, a divided appeals court panel said Mr. Pittington was entitled to a new trial on damages. “The district court abused its discretion in this case when it refused to hold a new trial on the issue of damages,” said the majority opinion.

“Because the $10,000 award was ‘substantially less than (even the lowest estimate of damages that had been) unquestionably proved by the plaintiff’s uncontradicted and undisputed evidence’ … the district court erred in declining to order a new trial as to the issue of damages,” it said.

The court also abused its discretion in applying the 0.66% interest rate, said the opinion, in remanding the case for further proceedings.

The dissenting opinion said the District Court judge “did not exceed her considerable discretion” in rejecting Mr. Pittington’s request for a new trial and for a 10% prejudgment interest rate award on the judgment.



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