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Lalowski v. Corinthian Schools, Inc.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

April 26, 2013




Before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Post-Verdict relief. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's Motion.


After a two-day trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff Daniel Lalowski (hereinafter, the "Plaintiff" or "Lalowski") on his Title IX retaliation claim against Defendants Corinthian Schools, Inc. and Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (hereinafter, collectively, the "Defendants" or "Corinthian"). Specifically, the jury determined that Defendants retaliated against Lalowski by terminating his employment shortly after he notified Defendants' President that his supervisor was engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with students. As a result of the termination, the jury found Lalowski suffered mental and emotional distress and awarded the sum of $25, 000 in damages.

At the conclusion of the trial, the Court directed the parties to file Motions for Post-Verdict Relief. On September 26, 2012, Plaintiff filed his Motion, styled as a Motion for Summary Judgment. In the Motion, Plaintiff requests that the Court award him economic damages for back pay and lost benefits. In addition, he asks to be reinstated in a position with Defendants or alternatively, to receive front pay.


Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and [it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is material if it could affect the outcome of the case. Id. If the moving party satisfies its burden, the non-movant must present facts to show a genuine dispute exists to avoid summary judgment. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). To establish a genuine issue of fact, the non-moving party "must do more than show that there is some metaphysical doubt as the material facts." Sarver v. Experian Info. Sys., 390 F.3d 969, 970 (7th Cir. 2004).


Lalowski prevailed on his Title IX retaliation claim against Defendants. The Seventh Circuit applies the same framework for retaliation claims under Title IX as retaliation claims under Title VII. See, Milligan v. Bd. of Trustees of S. Illinois Univ., 686 F.3d 378, 388 (7th Cir. 2012). While Title VII forbids an employer from discriminating against an employee who opposed any practice protected by Title VII, Title IX prohibits discrimination "on the basis of sex" and covers "retaliat[ion] against a person because he complains of sex discrimination." Id. citing Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ., 544 U.S. 167, 174 (2005) (emphasis in original).

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a prevailing party in a Title VII or IX action was limited to equitable relief - compensatory damages were unavailable. See Randolph v. IMBS, Inc., 368 F.3d 726, 732 (7th Cir. 2004). However, after the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was passed, prevailing plaintiffs became entitled to compensatory damages. See, Hildebrandt v. Illinois Dept. of Natural Res., 347 F.3d 1014, 1031 (7th Cir. 2003). Generally, compensatory damages are subject to limitations based on the size of the employer. See National R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 119 (2002).

Back pay and front pay are available damages for plaintiffs who prevail in Title IX retaliation claims. These damages are considered equitable and therefore are not subject to the statutory limitations. See 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1981a(b)(2), 2000e-5(g); see also, Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843, 848 (2001).

Reinstatement is another equitable remedy available to a prevailing party in a Title IX retaliation case. Hicks v. Forest Preserve Dist. of Cook County Ill., 677 F.3d 781, 792 (7th Cir. 2012). The Seventh Circuit has held that reinstatement is "the preferred remedy for victims of discrimination and the court should award it when feasible." Bruso v. United Airlines, 239 F.3d 848, 862 (7th Cir. 2001). When such an award is not feasible, courts may award front pay in lieu of reinstatement. See Shick v. IDHS, 307 F.3d 605, 614 (7th Cir. 2002).

Lalowski seeks back pay and reinstatement from Defendants. He alternatively requests front pay if the Court determines reinstatement impractical.

A. Back Pay

Lalowski seeks $214, 638.00 in back pay. He claims he is entitled to this amount of money because he was reasonably diligent in his job search after being terminated, but was unable to find comparable employment and because he lost 401(k) benefits as a result of Defendants' unlawful termination. Defendants oppose such an award. They claim Lalowski is not entitled to any back pay because he failed to mitigate his damages and rejected an offer of comparable employment after being terminated.

"Title VII triggers a rebuttable presumption that a claimant is entitled to an award of back pay." E.E.O.C. v. Gurnee Inn Corp., 914 F.2d 815, 817 (7th Cir. 1990). After a prevailing party establishes an amount of damages, the employer must demonstrate an affirmative defense such as, failure to mitigate in order to reduce the amount or prevent an award entirely. Id. at 818.

Back pay is calculated by "measuring the difference between actual earnings for the period and those which... [Plaintiff] would have earned absent the discrimination by the defendant." U.S. E.E.O.C. v. Custom Companies, Inc., 02 C 3768, 2007 WL 734395 at *12 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 8, 2007). Generally, back pay "begins to accrue when the plaintiff first loses wages due to the discrimination [or retaliation] at issue, and [] ends on the date of judgment." Molino v. Bast Servs., No. 08-C-4399, 2011 WL 841891 at *3 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2011). In order to recover back pay, a prevailing plaintiff must mitigate his damages by exercising reasonable diligence in finding new employment. Gaffney v. Riverboat Servs. of Ind., 451 F.3d 424, 460 (7th Cir. 2006). Failure to mitigate is an affirmative defense that a defendant must prove to rebut a plaintiff's claim for back pay. Id.

In order to prove Lalowski failed to mitigate his damages, Defendants must prove that (1) Lalowski failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate his damages; and (2) there was a reasonable likelihood that Lalowski would have found comparable work by exercising such diligence. ...

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