Texas Court of Appeals Issues Remittitur in Retaliatory Discharge Case

A Dallas employment law case may involve multiple theories of liability, including allegations of age discrimination, gender discrimination, retaliatory discharge, etc.

Unless the case is settled prior to trial (or dismissed by the court on a motion for summary judgment), a jury may be called upon to decide these issues.

If either party is dissatisfied with the jury’s verdict or the trial court’s judgment thereon, he or she has the burden of proving reversible error in the court of appeals.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent employment law case was a paralegal who began working for the defendant law firm’s litigation department in 2006. At the time that she was hired, the plaintiff was 52 years old. In late 2012, the plaintiff complained that she had been the victim of a hostile work environment based on her age and gender. The plaintiff was terminated from her employment early the next year. According to the defendant, the plaintiff was fired because she failed to turn in a schedule, worked overtime without approval, and made inappropriate comments in the workplace.

The plaintiff filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), checking the boxes for “retaliation” and “age” but not for “sex.” In her complaint, she alleged that she had made a good faith complaint of age discrimination to the defendant and that had been the victim of a retaliation as a result.  The plaintiff filed suit in the District Court of Harris County, Texas. The case was tried to a jury, which awarded the plaintiff $150,000 for past compensatory damages. The trial court judge awarded an additional $767,242 in attorney fees, plus $100,000 in conditional appellate fees.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals for the State of Texas, the defendant argued that the lower tribunal’s decision should be reversed because there was no evidence that the plaintiff engaged in a protected activity that could support her retaliation claim, because there was no evidence that retaliation was the but-for cause of the plaintiff’s termination, because the plaintiff did not exhaust her retaliation complaint by making a gender discrimination claim to the EEOC even though she had made such an allegation to the defendant prior to her termination, and because the attorneys’ fee award was unreasonable, unnecessary, and based on inadmissible, insufficient evidence.

After considering the issues, the appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part. According to the court, the plaintiff did not fail to exhaust her administrative remedies because it was reasonable to expect that the investigation would include retaliation for making the complaint, whether based on age or gender. The court also sided with the plaintiff on the issues of the sufficiency of evidence to support the jury’s finding that the plaintiff did file a complaint of discrimination and that but-for causation existed.

However, with respect to the lower court’s ruling regarding attorney fees due the plaintiff, the appellate court agreed that an error had been made and suggested a remittitur of $70,626. The plaintiff was to be given 20 days in which to accept the remittitur; if she did not do so, the court stated that it would reverse the lower court’s decision on the issue and remand the case for a new trial on the issue of attorney fees.

Consult a Retaliatory Discharge Attorney in Dallas

The law firm of Key Harrington Barnes in Dallas handles retaliatory discharge cases and other employment law matters. For an appointment, call us at 214-615-7925.

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