Monday, May 23, 2011

Ohio appellate court slashes state’s largest discrimination verdict by more than 75%

It has been almost two years since a Cuyahoga County jury handed down what remains the state’s largest single-plaintiff employment verdict: $46.6 million ($3.5 million in compensatory damages and an astounding $43.1 million in punitive damages). As is often the case, however, what the jury gave, the court of appeals took away (at least in part).

In Luri v. Republic Services (5/19/2011) [pdf], the appellate court concluded that employment discrimination claims are subject to Ohio’s damages caps in tort actions. In such actions, punitive damages are capped at two-times the compensatory award. Therefore, the trial court should have reduced the punitive award to a maximum of $7 million. This decision likely reduces the verdict from $46.6 million to a still-robust $10.5 million.

This case is significant for two reasons:

  1. Ohio’s most recent foray into tort reform (effective since 2005) is vague on whether it applies to discrimination lawsuits. The Luri case joins the small list of cases to apply these tort reforms to discrimination claims. These reforms not only include the caps on punitive damages, but also the right to automatically bifurcate the issues of compensatory and punitive damages during covered jury trials. For this reason, this decision marks a significant victory for Ohio’s employers. I’ll have more on what these tort reform provisions mean tomorrow.

  2. There are many opportunities after a plaintiff’s verdict for an employer to alter—or eliminate—the number that appears on a final judgment. Jury verdicts are followed by post-trial motions, which are then followed by appeals. While a jury verdict is often viewed as the final battle in a case, it rarely ends the war. 

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