Category Archives: Attorney’s Fees

The disastrous consequences of the N-word in the workplace. Just ask Dr. Laura!

Okay, this arti­cle has noth­ing to do with Dr. Lau­ra Sch­lessinger and her “rant” in which she used the N-word repeat­ed­ly on her radio pro­gram when respond­ing to an African-Amer­i­can caller. But the ensu­ing con­tro­ver­sy (see arti­cles for and against Dr. Lau­ra), and her deci­sion to end her long-run­ning radio pro­gram, high­light the extra­or­di­nary sig­nif­i­cance of the N-word term in Amer­i­can soci­ety.

The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court recent­ly dealt with the N-word in a case that high­lights the great risks for employ­ers when that word enters the work­place.

In PAR Elec­tri­cal Con­trac­tors, Inc. v. Bev­elle , — W. Va. –, — S.E.2d –, 2010 WL 2244096 (June 3, 2010) (per curi­am), the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court dealt with a claim of a racial­ly based hos­tile work envi­ron­ment under the West Vir­ginia Human Rights Act, and con­clud­ed that the West Vir­ginia Human Rights Com­mis­sion was jus­ti­fied in find­ing for the employ­ee. The deci­sion was unan­i­mous. Click here for the WV Human Rights Com­mis­sion’s deci­sion which was affirmed by the WV Supreme Court.

A Sin­gle Day, With the N-Word Again and Again

PAR Elec­tri­cal was build­ing “giant tow­ers” for a high volt­age elec­tri­cal trans­mis­sion line. Richard Wayne Bev­elle was hired by PAR Elec­tri­cal on March 22, 2005, and, after work­ing as a “ground­man” assem­bling the tow­er bases, was assigned to load heli­copters with parts to con­struct the tow­ers (this heli­copter job was described as a “gravy job” by the Human Rights Com­mis­sion). Mr. Bev­elle is African-Amer­i­can.

Con­tin­ue read­ing The dis­as­trous con­se­quences of the N-word in the work­place. Just ask Dr. Lau­ra!

Drew Capuder will be speaking on retaliation law on Oct 29–30, 2010 at Oglebay Park in Wheeling

I will be speak­ing (and pre­sent­ing on arti­cle) on recent devel­op­ments in retal­i­a­tion under fed­er­al and West Vir­ginia employ­ment law on either Octo­ber 29 or 30, 2010 at the annu­al con­fer­ence of the West Vir­ginia Employ­ment Lawyers Asso­ci­a­tion. The con­fer­ence will be at Ogle­bay Resort and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter in Wheel­ing, West Vir­ginia. The final sched­ule is not out yet, so I don’t know whether my speech with be on Octo­ber 29 or 30.

Retal­i­a­tion law in recent years has been one of those devel­op­ing areas, and much more often than not the move­ment in the case law has been in the direc­tion of expand­ing pro­tec­tions for employ­ees against retal­i­a­tion. The US Supreme Court espe­cial­ly has focused on retal­i­a­tion law, and has “plugged gaps” in the law for fed­er­al employ­ees to include pro­tec­tion for retal­i­a­tion claims, has low­ered the thresh­old for what is action­able retal­i­a­tion, and has broad­ened the def­i­n­i­tion of “oppo­si­tion” which enti­tles employ­ees to pro­tec­tion.

One of the dan­gers for employ­ers from retal­i­a­tion claims is that, after an employ­ee com­plains about alleged dis­crim­i­na­tion, the employ­er may be guilty of retal­i­a­tion even if a jury decides there was no dis­crim­i­na­tion to sup­port the employee’s orig­i­nal com­plaint. An employ­ee may suc­ceed in a retal­i­a­tion claim as long as his com­plaint was made in good faith, even if the employ­ee was wrong about the com­plaint of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

In the pri­or 2 years at the annu­al con­fer­ence for WVELA, I spoke and wrote arti­cles on awards of attor­neys’ fees under employ­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion laws, and on age dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Jackson County jury awards $2.1 million in age case

On March 17, 2010, a jury in Jack­son Coun­ty in West Vir­ginia award­ed Jerold John Rice Jr. rough­ly $2.1 mil­lion in an age dis­crim­i­na­tion case against The Burke-Par­sons-Bowl­by Cor­po­ra­tion, Stel­la-Jones US Hold­ings Cor­po­ra­tion, and Stel­la-Jones, Inc., tried in Judge Thomas C. Evans III’s court.

Mr. Rice was rep­re­sent­ed by Mark Atkin­son and Paul Framp­ton at Atkin­son & Polak, PLLC, and the defen­dants were rep­re­sent­ed by Roger Wolfe at Jack­son & Kel­ly PLLC in Charleston, and Kevin Hyde at Foley & Lard­ner, LLP in Jack­sonville, Flori­da.

Here is a quick run-down of what was award­ed in the case:

  • Back pay: $142,659 award­ed by jury.
  • Pre-judg­ment inter­est: $11,791.84 from date of ter­mi­na­tion through tri­al.
  • Front pay: $1,991,332.00 award­ed by jury (from rough­ly age 48 through retire­ment age at 67).
  • Emo­tion­al dis­tress: $0.
  • Puni­tive dam­ages: Jury did not answer ques­tion affir­ma­tive­ly which would have allowed award of puni­tive dam­ages.
  • Total judg­ment based on jury’s ver­dict: $2,145,782.84, plus post-judg­ment inter­est on that amount at 7% per annum.
  • Attor­neys’ fees: $117,235 award­ed by judge (based on $450 an hour for Mark Atkin­son and $300 per hour for Paul Framp­ton).
  • Lit­i­ga­tion expens­es: $20,324.16 award­ed by judge.
  • Total award: $2,283,342.00 (based on jury ver­dict, pre-judg­ment inter­est, attor­neys’ fees and expens­es) plus post-judg­ment inter­est at 7% per annum.

The Rice case illus­trates the risk employ­ers face when they ter­mi­nate an old­er, good, long-stand­ing employ­ee, and replace him or her with a much younger per­son with lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence for the employ­er.

What Hap­pened?

Mr. Rice at the time of his ter­mi­na­tion (in 2009) was age 47 and had worked for Burke-Par­sons-Bowl­by Cor­po­ra­tion for 24 years. When Mr. Rice was ter­mi­nat­ed he was the cor­po­rate con­troller.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Jack­son Coun­ty jury awards $2.1 mil­lion in age case