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Gedmin v. North American Safety Products

November 3, 2010

JANELLE GEDMIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORTH AMERICAN SAFETY PRODUCTS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On March 3, 2010, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff Janelle Gedmin on her hostile work environment claim in violation Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., against Defendant North American Safety Products, Inc. ("North American"). Before the Court is Gedmin's Motion for Back Pay and Front Pay Damages. For the following reasons, the Court, in its discretion, grants Gedmin's motion for back pay in the amount of $290,742.14, but denies Gedmin's motion for front pay damages. See David v. Caterpillar, Inc., 324 F.3d 851, 865-66 (7th Cir. 2003) ("the district court has broad equitable discretion to fashion back pay awards to make the Title VII victim whole").

BACKGROUND

Gedmin brought this lawsuit alleging that North American subjected her to a hostile work environment and retaliated against her by reducing her pay and informing her that the company was looking for a replacement for her position after she informed North American of the sexual harassment. Gedmin sought compensatory and punitive damages for her injuries. The Court commenced Gedmin's jury trial on March 1, 2010. On March 3, 2010, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Gedmin on her hostile work environment claim and concluded that Gedmin was constructively discharged.*fn1 The jury awarded Gedmin $35,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages. On the other hand, the jury returned a verdict in favor of North American on Gedmin's retaliation claim. The Court entered judgment on March 3, 2010 and, on June 28, 2010, the Court denied North American's motion for a new trial.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a prevailing party in a Title VII action could only recover equitable relief, not compensatory damages. See Randolph v. IMBS, Inc., 368 F.3d 726, 732 (7th Cir. 2004) ("Until the Civil Rights Act of 1991, only equitable remedies (including back pay) were available for violations of the 1964 Act"). "With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a plaintiff also may recover compensatory damages," see Hildebrandt v. Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources, 347 F.3d 1014, 1031 (7th Cir. 2003), which are subject to limitations or "caps" based on the size of the employer. See National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 119, 122 S.Ct. 2061, 152 L.Ed.2d 106 (2002). Back pay and front pay are not considered "compensatory damages" under Section 1981a, and thus are not subject to any statutory caps or limitations. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981a(b)(2), 2000e-5(g); see also Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843, 848, 121 S.Ct. 1946, 150 L.Ed.2d 62 (2001); Pals v. Schepel Buick & GMC Truck, Inc., 220 F.3d 495, 499 (7th Cir. 2000). Title VII, however, requires mitigation of damages with respect to back pay. See Doe v. Oberweis Dairy, 456 F.3d 704, 714 (7th Cir. 2006). Also, courts may award front pay in lieu of reinstatement. See Shick v. IDHS, 307 F.3d 605, 614 (7th Cir. 2002) ("Front pay is an appropriate remedy in Title VII cases when reinstatement is not available or not advisable because of workplace incompatibility.")

ANALYSIS

In her opening legal memorandum, Gedmin asserts that she is entitled to $428,436.41 in net lost income and benefits, but in her reply brief, Gedmin seeks an award of $368,130.60 after reducing certain amounts in her calculations. North American, on the other hand, maintains that Gedmin should be awarded a total of $189,465.73 in lost income and $4,102.41 in lost benefits.

I. Back Pay

The parties agree that North American owes Gedmin $37,100.00 for the work period of February 28 through September 16, 2006 and $76,700.00 from the time period of September 17, 2006 through September 16, 2007. Also, the parties agree that North American owes Gedmin $22,750.00 from September 17, 2007 through December 31, 2007 for lost income. The parties further agree that Gedmin's lost benefit award throughout the relevant time period is $4,102.41.

For the period of January 1, 2008 through May 1, 2010, however, Gedmin contends that her lost income was $176,962.50. North American argues that this calculation is wrong based on North American CEO Martin J. Mobeck's Affidavit in which he avers that as of January 1, 2008, North American reduced the wages of its employees by ten percent and reduced their hours from 40 hours per week to 32 hours per week. (R. 95, Ex. A, Mobeck Aff. ¶¶ 3, 4.) It is undisputed, however, that at the time of her constructive discharge Gedmin was a salaried, not hourly, employee. Thus, the Court only considers the ten percent decrease of her salary in concluding that Gedmin's lost income for the time period of January 1, 2008 until March 3, 2010 -- the date the Court entered judgment in this matter -- is $165,262.50. See, e.g., Emmel v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Chicago, Inc., 904 F.Supp. 723, 729 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (back pay award extends until day of judgment); see also Pollard, 532 U.S. at 846, 849 (front pay awarded after judgment entered). Finally, the parties agree that Gedmin's relevant commissions until the date the Court entered judgment on March 3, 2010 total $30,663.23.

II. Front Pay

The parties dispute whether Gedmin is entitled to front pay, which is "money awarded for lost compensation during the period between judgment and reinstatement or in lieu of reinstatement." Pollard, 532 U.S. at 846. "Front pay is an appropriate remedy in Title VII cases when reinstatement is not available or not advisable because of workplace incompatibility." Shick, 307 F.3d at 614; see also Bruso v. United Airlines, Inc., 239 F.3d 848, 862 (7th Cir. 2001) ("When reinstating a successful Title VII plaintiff is not feasible, front pay is usually available as an alternative remedy."). When front pay is a substitute for reinstatement, it should compensate the employee for the reasonable time it would take to find comparable employment. See Shick, 307 F.3d at 614. Moreover, in order to award front pay damages, the plaintiff is "required to present persuasive evidence of inability to find a substitute job." Mattenson v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 438 F.3d 763, 771 (7th Cir. 2006). As the Seventh Circuit instructs: "A plaintiff who seeks an award of front pay must provide the district court with the essential data necessary to calculate a reasonably certain front pay award," including "the amount of the proposed award, the length of time the plaintiff expects to work for the defendant, and the applicable discount rate." Bruso, 239 F.3d at 862 (internal quotations and citations omitted). "If the plaintiff fails to provide this information to the district court, the court will not abuse its discretion if it denies his request for front pay." Id.

Here, Gedmin admits that she has not set forth the applicable discount rate, but instead directs the Court's attention to a 1982 Seventh Circuit case as guidance. See O'Shea v. Riverway Towing, 677 F.2d 1194 (7th Cir. 1982). Although the O'Shea decision gives guidance in computing the present value of lost future wages, the United States Supreme Court has been hesitant to adopt any fixed formula accounting for inflation when discounting future wages to their present value. See Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. v. Pfeifer, 462 U.S. 523, 546-547, 103 S.Ct. 2541, 76 L.Ed.2d 768 (1983). Based on Gedmin's failure to provide the discount rate necessary to establish the proper amount of her front pay damages, along with her failure to provide sufficient data as discussed ...


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