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TART v. ELEMENTIS PIGMENTS
June 21, 2001
CHARLES TART, PLAINTIFF,
ELEMENTIS PIGMENTS INC., DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge:
On June 3, 1999, Charles Tart filed a two-count complaint against his
employer, Elementis Pigments, Inc. ("Elementis"). Count I alleged that
Elementis had discriminated against him in violation of the American
Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1201, et seq., by not
accommodating his disability. Count II alleged that Elementis failed to
recall him to work in retaliation for his claim for workers' compensation
in violation of Illinois law.
On April 9, 2001, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Tart on both
counts. Under Count I (the ADA claim), the jury awarded Tart $500,000 in
compensatory damages and $1,500,000 in punitive damages. Under Count II
(failure to recall in retaliation for his claim for workers'
compensation), the jury assessed $500,000 for pain, suffering, and mental
anguish, $30,000 for past loss of earnings, $175,000 for future loss of
earnings, and $750,000 in punitive damages (for a total of $1,455,000).
However, several issues remain for the Court to decide.
II. Statutory Cap on Damages under the ADA
The ADA imposes a mandatory cap on compensatory and punitive damages
depending upon the number of employees the defendant employs.
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3). In its answer to Tart's post-verdict
interrogatory, Elementis states that it has employed less than 480
employees worldwide during each week of each calendar year since January
6, 1996. Under the ADA, "the sum of the amount of compensatory damages
awarded under this section for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain,
suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and
other non-pecuniary losses, and the amount of punitive damages awarded
under this section, shall not exceed $200,000 in the case of a defendant
who has more than 200 and fewer than 501 employees in each of 20 or more
calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year."
42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(C).
Tart concedes a $200,000 cap applies but argues the award (as reduced
to meet the $200,000 cap) should represent $200,000 in compensatory
damages and $0 in punitive
damages. To the contrary, Elementis argues
that the cap should apply in a direct ratio to the jury's original award
of compensatory and punitive damages. Since the jury's original award was
a one to three ratio of compensatory damages versus punitive damages
($50,000 in compensatory and $1,500,000 in punitive damages), Elementis
maintains that Tart should receive $50,000 in compensatory and $150,000
in punitive damages under the cap. The Court disagrees. As the Seventh
Circuit has confirmed, the ADA "contains no command as to how a district
court is to conform a jury award to the statutory cap." Jonasson v.
Lutheran Child and Family Services, 115 F.3d 436, 441 (7th Cir. 1997).
By the jury's award of $500,000 in compensatory damages under Count I,
the Court finds the jury clearly believed Tart's compensatory damages
under Count I were significant. Moreover, punitive damages are looked
upon with a jaundiced eye in contrast to compensatory damages. If the
Court accepted Elementis' suggested one to three ratio, Tart would
receive $50,000 in compensatory and $150,000 in punitive damages.
Assuming the punitive award is reversed, Tart would be left with $50,000
compensatory damages in a case where he proved $500,000 in compensatory
loss. Worse yet, Elementis, whose conduct in the jury's view mandated a
punitive verdict of $1,500,000, would benefit from the egregious nature of
its action because the ratio of punitive damages exhausts 75% of the
cap. This would leave Tart with only 10% ($50,000 of $500,000) of the
original compensatory award and 0% of the punitive award. Therefore, the
Court REDUCES THE TOTAL AWARD UNDER COUNT I TO $200,000 pursuant to the
statutory cap, all of which represents compensatory damages. Conforming
the jury's award to the statutory cap does not affect the taxation of the
damage award, which is taxable whether designated as compensatory or
Although the Court imposes the statutory cap as to the compensatory
damages awarded under Count I pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, back pay
and front pay*fn1 are not subject to this cap. Therefore, this Court
must determine the amount of back pay to which Tart is entitled, whether
Tart should be reinstated or receive front pay, attorneys' fees, and any
other equitable relief warranted.*fn2
The parties stipulate that Tart is entitled to an award of back pay
under Count I. Tart argues that he is entitled to back pay from October
28, 1997, the first day Elementis refused to accommodate his disability,
to May 1, 2001, a post-verdict date that Tart does not explain. Tart also
argues that $6000 per year should be added to his hourly wages for the
value of his health insurance. All in all, Tart seeks $130,090 in back
pay under Count I. However,
this conflicts with the opinion of Dr. Leroy
J. Grossman, Tart's economist. In his report, Dr. Grossman opines that
Tart is entitled to $96,405 in back pay. Although Dr. Grossman provides
no explanation for this figure, it appears that he has excluded
approximately six months of wages.
Elementis agrees with Dr. Grossman's presumed assumption that wages
needed to be excluded for periods of time during which Tart otherwise
would not have been working. However, Elementis argues that more time
should be excluded. The Court agrees. An employee is not entitled to back
pay for periods of time that he otherwise would not have been working even
if the unlawful discrimination had not occurred. Flowers v. Komatsu Mini
Systems, Inc., 165 F.3d 554, 557 (7th Cir. 1999).
First, the evidence shows that from October 29, 1997 to January 8,
1998, Tart was totally disabled and industrially unemployable.
Therefore, this time frame must be excluded. Second, the time period the
jury used to determine the back pay award under Count II must be excluded
in order to avoid a duplicative award. Tart can "only recover back pay
once for a single time period no matter how many or few of Elementis'
unlawful acts caused the Tart's back pay loss." Emmel v. Coca-Cola
Bottling Co. of Chicago, Inc., 904 F. Supp. 723, 750 (N.D.Ill. 1995),
aff'd, 95 F.3d 627 (7th Cir. 1996). There can be no duplication of any
back pay award. Id. The jury assessed Tart's back pay under Count II
using a time period beginning on June 1, 2000, the first day Tart should
have been recalled to work, to the date of the verdict. This time must be
excluded when determining the back pay award under Count I. Therefore,
the time period for determining back pay under Count I ends on May 31,
Next, the evidence shows that the Painters' Union Local 1850, of which
Tart was a member, engaged in a strike from November 11, 1999 to May 31,
2000. This time period also must be excluded.
Taking into consideration each of the applicable time period
exclusions, Tart is entitled to back pay from January 9, 1998 to November
10, 1999. Given the evidence regarding his salary during 1998 and 1999,
Tart would have earned $34,661.84 during this time period (1/9/98 to
10/12/98 at $15.01 per hour plus 10/13/98 to 11/10/99 at $15.31 per
Elementis also argues that this figure is subject to additional
reductions for (1)permanent partial disability payments that were offered
by Elementis but rejected by Tart; (2)actual interim earnings; and (3)
imputed earnings as a result of Tart's failure to take advantage of
vocational retraining or positions paying $19,600 per ...