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Arroyo v. Volvo Group North America, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 13, 2017

LUZMARIA ARROYO, Plaintiff,
v.
VOLVO GROUP NORTH AMERICA, LLC, d/b/a VOLVO PARTS NORTH AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT M. DOW, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff LuzMaria Arroyo sued Defendant Volvo Group North America, LLC, d/b/a Volvo Parts North America (“Volvo”) for discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq. (“USERRA”). On August 23, 2016, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, awarding $2.6 million in compensatory damages and $5.2 million in punitive damages on Plaintiff's ADA claim. The jury also found Defendant liable for willfully violating USERRA when it terminated Plaintiff's employment. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's request for equitable relief [167].

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's request [167] is granted in part and denied in part. Upon review of the parties' presentation at trial and the parties' post-trial briefing, the Court awards Plaintiff $141, 388.53 in back pay, $84, 131.92 in front pay, $41, 348.61 in other employment-related compensation, $8, 546.10 in prejudgment interest, and $275, 415.16 in liquidated damages. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3), the Court also reduces the jury's $2.6 million compensatory damages award to $300, 000 and vacates the jury's $5.2 million punitive damages award. All other forms of equitable relief are denied. With these matters decided, final judgment will be entered in favor of Plaintiff. The parties will have until August 10, 2017 to file any motions pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50 and 59, responses are due September 7, 2017, and replies are due September 21, 2017.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff LuzMaria Arroyo worked as a material handler for Defendant at its Chicago Parts Distribution Center in Joliet, Illinois from June 13, 2005, until she was fired on November 8, 2011. Plaintiff was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, and Volvo hired her with that knowledge. Plaintiff received more than 900 days of military leave over six and half years of employment at Volvo. Plaintiff was treated for service-related post-traumatic stress disorder in December 2010 and formally diagnosed in January 2011. After her termination, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant under the ADA and USERRA, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her military service and her PTSD. Plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages as well as equitable relief in the form of back pay, front pay, prejudgment interest, reemployment, benefit reinstatement, notification to the Office of Federal Contracting Compliance Program (“OFCCP”) of Defendant's violations, and tax compensation. The Court bifurcated the trial such that Phase I would be a jury trial covering liability on Plaintiff's ADA and USERRA claims, damages on Plaintiff's ADA claim, and a finding of whether Defendant's USERRA violation was willful. In Phase II, the Court would decide any equitable relief.

         On August 23, 2016, following a seven-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff on all counts. Under Section I, titled “Liability for Plaintiff's ADA Discrimination Claim, ” the jury marked the box for Plaintiff. [161, at 1.] Section II is titled, “Damages for Plaintiff's ADA Discrimination Claim.” Id. at 2. Part A of this section is titled “Compensatory Damages, ” and the jury awarded $2.6 million. Id. Part B of this section is titled “Punitive Damages, ” and the jury awarded $5.2 million. Id. In total, the jury awarded $7.8 million on Plaintiff's ADA claim. Section III is titled, “Liability for Plaintiff's USERRA Discrimination Claim.” Id. at 3. The jury found that Plaintiff proved that her military service was the motivating factor that prompted Defendant to terminate her, Defendant failed to prove that it would have terminated her even if it had not taken her military service into account, and that Plaintiff proved that Defendant had “willfully” violated USSERA when it terminated her employment. Id. Now before the Court are Plaintiff's requests for equitable relief.

         II. Legal Standard

         If an employer has been found to have intentionally engaged in an unlawful employment practice, a district court may order back pay, reinstatement, and “any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1). Back pay “represents the wages the plaintiff would have earned had she not been fired between the time of the firing and the date of judgment.” Gracia v. Sigmatron Int'l, Inc., 130 F.Supp.3d 1249, 1255 (N.D. Ill. 2015) (citing Seventh Circuit Pattern Civil Jury Instruction 3.11). If reinstatement is not appropriate, a court can award front pay in lieu of reinstatement. Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843, 846 (2001); accord Shick v. Ill. Dep't of Human Servs., 307 F.3d 605, 614 (7th Cir. 2002). “Front pay represents the wages the plaintiff would have earned had she not been fired measured from the date of the judgment to some reasonable point in the future.” Gracia, 130 F.Supp.3d at 1255. “Back pay and front pay are not considered ‘compensatory damages' under Section 1981a, and thus are not subject to any statutory caps or limitations.” Parker v. Madison Cty. Reg'l Office of Educ., 2013 WL 4600625, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Aug. 29, 2013); accord Pollard, 532 U.S. at 848. Moreover, “the granting of prejudgment interest is left to the sound discretion of the district court.” United States v. Bd. of Educ. of Consol. High Sch. Dist. 230, Palos Hills, Ill., 983 F.2d 790, 799 (7th Cir. 1993). “The court has broad discretion under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g) to craft equitable relief necessary to make [a prevailing plaintiff] whole.” Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 2009 WL 2407736, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 4, 2009).

         III. Analysis

         Before discussing Plaintiff's entitlement to equitable relief, both parties put the jury's verdict on Plaintiff's ADA claim front and center. The Court addresses that issue first.

         A. Jury's ADA Compensatory and Punitive Damages Award

         ADA claims are subject to the statutory damages caps of 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3). See E.E.O.C. v. AutoZone, Inc., 707 F.3d 824, 831 (7th Cir. 2013) (applying Section 1981(a)(b)(3) to ADA claims). Section 1981a(b)(3)(D) provides that “[t]he 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 nonpecuniary losses, and the amount of punitive damages awarded under this section, shall not exceed * * * in the case of a respondent who has more than 500 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, $300, 000.” Backpay, interest on backpay, and front pay are excluded from the definition of “compensatory damages.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(2). Because Volvo has more than 500 employees [170, at 5], this statutory command requires the Court to reduce the jury's $7.8 million ADA award to $300, 000, at most.

         To avoid this result, Plaintiff advances two arguments. First, she points to the party's “Joint Statement on Division of Responsibility Between Judge and Jury” regarding Plaintiff's damages claims. [See 141.] In that Joint Statement, the parties itemized four categories of damages and whether the judge or jury had responsibility for awarding those damages: (1) “Lost wages through March 4, 2016 (Judge)”; (2) “Punitive and Liquidated damages for Volvo's intentional violation of USERRA and the ADA (Jury)”; (3) “Attorney's Fees (Judge)”; and “Case Costs to Date (Judge).” Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff characterizes this document as a “definitive pretrial agreement in an action at law for damages” that “should be binding on all parties after trial.” [167, at 5.] As a result, Plaintiff contends that “the parties have stipulated and agreed that the jury was to determine liquidated damages under USERRA if an intentional violation was found” (id. at 8 (emphasis added)) and Defendant “has forfeited any benefit of compensatory, punitive, or liquidated damages caps on the amounts awarded by the jury” [172, at 18-19].

         Plaintiff's argument must overcome the fact that the verdict form in this case was clear. It included on one page a section for “damages for Plaintiff's ADA discrimination claim” with a subsection for “compensatory damages” and another for “punitive damages.” [161, at 2.] The following page is titled “liability for Plaintiff's USERRA discrimination claim” and does not include any damages subsections. Id. at 3. The jury was expressly directed not to award damages on the USERRA claim [156, at 28] and there are no blank spaces where the jury could have written a damages figure. Indeed, the jury did not write in any numbers on this section of the verdict form. Thus, nothing on the verdict form or in the Court's instructions suggests that the jury awarded any damages for Plaintiff's USERRA claim.

         Plaintiff essentially argues that the Court should rewrite the verdict form in light of the parties' Joint Statement to mean that the jury did award uncapped “liquidated” USERRA damages as part of its ADA award. The Court is unaware of any authority by which it could do that, and Plaintiff cites none. The Court also cannot see how Defendant forfeited the statutory caps based on the Joint Statement. The parties never expressly waived Section 1981a(b)(3)'s damages caps (assuming that parties could consent to that) and Plaintiff offers no basis to think that the parties agreed to that result sub silentio. In fact, were the Court to agree with Plaintiff that this “binding” Joint Statement modifies the jury's verdict, the Court would be required to eliminate the $2.6 million compensatory damages award entirely because the Joint Statement only says the jury would decide “Punitive and Liquidated damages.” [141.] In reality, the Joint Statement memorializes the fact that the jury would decide compensatory and punitive damages for Plaintiff's ADA claim (as is ordinarily true) and the factual issues required for imposition of “liquidated” damages under 38 U.S.C. § 4323(d)(1)(C) (i.e., whether Defendant's violation of USERRA was “willful”). See DeLee v. City of Plymouth, Ind., 773 F.3d 172, 174 n.1 (7th Cir. 2014) (“A plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial on a liquidated damages claim under USERRA, ” meaning that it will up to the jury to decide wither a defendant's violation of USERRA was “willful.”). That is exactly how the issues were presented to the jury here.

         Second, Plaintiff invokes Pals v. Schepel Buick & GMC Truck, Inc., 220 F.3d 495 (7th Cir. 2000), and argues that the questions presented to the jury regarding compensatory damages were ambiguous and the “jury was not instructed that they were only being asked to render a verdict on the value of discrimination that [she] experienced under the ADA.” [167, at 7; 172, at 9-10, 18-19.] In Pals, the jury was provided a general verdict form and asked to determine “compensatory damages” under the ADA without specifying whether the jury would also determine “back and front pay.” 220 F.3d at 499-500. The Seventh Circuit held that “[n]either back nor front pay counts against a maximum award of compensatory damages under § 1981a(b)(3).” Id. at 499. Because the jury in Pals “did not separate compensatory damages under § 1981a from other monetary relief [such as front or back pay], it is impossible to know whether the verdict includes more than $100, 000 in” the specific types of compensatory damages capped by Section 1981a(b)(3). Id. at 500. The Seventh Circuit explained that defendant could have raised this issue regarding the jury instructions or verdict form but failed to do so, which meant it had “forfeited any benefit of § 1981a(b)(3)(B).” Id.. The Seventh Circuit further noted that although issues of front and back pay under the ADA were equitable issues, the parties could consent to have a jury decide back and front pay and had impliedly done so in this case. Id. at 501.

         Unlike Pals, the jury in this case received the following compensatory damages instruction on Plaintiff's ADA claim:

In calculating damages, you should not consider the issue of lost wages and benefits. The court will calculate and determine any damages for past or future lost wages and benefits. You should consider the following types of compensatory damages, and no others:
1. The physical, mental, and emotional pain and suffering that Plaintiff LuzMaria Arroyo has experienced. No evidence of the dollar value of physical, mental, or emotional pain and suffering has been or needs to be introduced. There is no exact standard for setting the damages to be awarded on account of pain and suffering. You are to determine an amount that will fairly compensate Plaintiff LuzMaria Arroyo for the injury she has sustained.
2. The reasonable value of medical care that Plaintiff LuzMaria Arroyo reasonably needed and actually received.

[156, at 22.] The jury received a separate instruction about how to calculate punitive damages. See id. at 23-24. Consistent with the requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(c)(2), the Court did not inform the jury of the statutory damages caps. The jury was also instructed

If you find that Plaintiff LuzMaria Arroyo has proved her USERRA discrimination claim against Defendant Volvo Trucks, you will not consider the question of damages as to that claim. Damages for violations of USERRA are determined by the Court. Your only job with respect to Plaintiff's USERRA discrimination claim is to determine the issue of liability.

[156, at 28.]

         Nothing about these instructions suggests that (1) the jury should have been confused about whether they were calculating back pay or front pay as part of a compensatory damages award under the ADA; (2) it is ambiguous whether the jury thought that were awarding damages under USERRA and the ADA; or (3) the statutory caps under ADA no longer applied to this case. The instructions removed front and back pay from the jury's compensatory damages consideration and distinguished who was responsible for awarding damages for Plaintiff's ADA and USERRA claims. Pals cannot be relied upon to avoid Section 1981a(b)(3)(B)'s statutory damages caps for Plaintiff's ADA claim, and the jury's compensatory and punitive damages award here must be reduced to no greater than $300, 000 total.

         Section 1981a(b)(3) “contains no command as to how a district court is to conform a jury award to the statutory cap.” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 441 (7th Cir. 1997). The Seventh Circuit has “upheld a decision that took the entire cut out of the award of punitive damages and another that took the entire cut out of the award of compensatory damages.” Lust v. Sealy, Inc., 383 F.3d 580, 589 (7th Cir. 2004). It has also noted that “in a normal suit punitive damages are something added on by the jury after it determines the plaintiff's compensatory damages, ” so it is “probably the sensible thing for the judge * * * not to make a pro rata reduction * * * but instead to determine the maximum reasonable award of compensatory damages, subtract that from $300, 000, and denote the difference punitive damages.” Id. Compensation is the primary purpose of Section 1981(a)'s remedies, and “[t]he more common approach is to take the entire cut from punitive damages.” Alford v. Aaron's Rents, Inc., 2011 WL 2669626, at *1 (S.D. Ill. July 7, 2011); accord Tart v. Elementis Pigments, Inc., 191 F.Supp.2d 1019, 1024 (S.D. Ill. 2001); Williams v. Pharmacia Opthalmics, Inc., 926 F.Supp. 791, 794 (N.D. Ind. 1996).

         Here, the jury found that Plaintiff required a significant damages award to compensate her for Defendant's ADA violations. Consistent with that judgment, the Court will first apply the jury's compensatory award toward the statutory cap. That award exhausts the entire $300, 000 limit, leaving no room for additional punitive damages under the ADA.[1] The Court, therefore, reduces the $2.6 million compensatory damages award to $300, 000 and vacates the jury's $5.2 million punitive damages award.[2]

         B. Back Pay

         Employees who prove employment discrimination are presumptively entitled to back pay. See David v. Caterpillar, Inc., 324 F.3d 851, 865 (7th Cir. 2003); Gracia, 130 F.Supp.3d at 1256. The prevailing plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing the amount of back pay, and then the burden “shifts to the defendant to show that the plaintiff failed to mitigate damages or that damages were in fact less than the plaintiff asserts.” Hutchison v. Amateur Elec. Supply, Inc., 42 F.3d 1037, 1044 (7th Cir. 1994); see also Taylor v. Philips Indus., Inc., 593 F.2d 783, 787 (7th Cir. 1979) (“Not until the plaintiff establishes what she contends are her damages does the burden of going forward to rebut the damage claim or to show plaintiff's failure to mitigate damages, fall on defendant.”). “When assessing back pay, or awarding front pay in lieu of reinstatement, the judge must respect the findings implied by the jury's verdict.” Pals, 220 F.3d at 501. “But whatever discretion the facts allow with respect to back pay and front pay belongs to the judge rather than the jury.” Id.

         1. Plaintiff's Burden

         Plaintiff was terminated from Volvo on November 8, 2011, and the jury returned its verdict on August 23, 2016. The relevant question is what Plaintiff would have earned in this more than four year period between November 8, 2011, and August 23, 2016, had she remained employed by Volvo. [172, at 25.] Plaintiff's opening brief omits any discussion of her back pay calculations. While she attaches a document that includes various calculations [167-1], she provides very little explanation of those figures and no supporting evidence. Based on documents and amounts corroborated by Defendant [1701-1] and supplemented by Plaintiff on reply, Plaintiff's proposed estimated lost earnings are represented in the following chart:

Year

Base Pay

Shift Differential [3]

Overtime Hours [4]

Overtime Rate [5]

Overtime Pay

Total Pay

2011

$56, 014.40

$5, 601.44

390

$40.40

$15, 756.00

$77, 371.84

2012

$57, 699.20

$5, 769.92

0

$41.61

$0.00

$63, 469.12

2013

$59, 425.60

$5, 942.56

0

$42.86

$0.00

$65, 368.16

2014

$61, 193.60

$6, 119.36

0

$44.13

$0.00

$67, 312.96

2015

$63, 044.80

$6, 304.48

858

$45.47

$39, 013.26

$108, 362.54

2016

$64, 937.60

$6, 493.76

819

$46.83

$38, 353.77

$109, 785.13

Total

$362, 315.20

$36, 231.52

2, 067

N/A

$93, 123.03

$491, 669.75

         There are two obvious problems with these estimates. First, Plaintiff does not prorate her pay for 2011 or 2016 notwithstanding the fact that she worked until November 2011 and could only receive back pay through August 23, 2016.[6] Second, Plaintiff offers no support for her projected overtime hours beyond saying that “she never refused overtime pay opportunities whenever offered and, in fact, actively pursued those overtime opportunities” [172, at 31], which is evidenced by an email in which she claims to have been “denied the ability to perform Saturday overtime as offered to all employees” [172-24]. Plaintiff worked fewer than 20 overtime hours most years, and the most that she ever worked was about 78 hours in 2005. [170, at 12-13.] She offers no evidence that she would have worked eleven times that amount in 2015. Moreover, for the first 10 months of 2011, Plaintiff worked fewer than 75 hours of overtime. Id. at 13. If Plaintiff has a reason that she would have worked an additional 315 overtime hours in the next seven weeks to reach a yearly total of 390, she does not disclose it.

         Plaintiff worked on average 34.7 hours of overtime per year in her seven years of employment with Volvo. Id. Based on this information, the Court sets Plaintiff's overtime hours at this average for the relevant back pay time period. Plaintiff's estimated lost earnings must be revised as follows:

Year

Base Pay

Shift Differential

Overtime Hours

Overtime Rate

Overtime Pay

Total Pay

2011

$7, 540.40

$754.04

0[7]

$40.40

$0.00

$8, 294.44

2012

$57, 699.20

$5, 769.92

34.7

$41.61

$1, 443.87

$64, 912.99

2013

$59, 425.60

$5, 942.56

34.7

$42.86

$1, 487.24

$66, 855.40

2014

$61, 193.60

$6, 119.36

34.7

$44.13

$1, 531.31

$68, 844.27

2015

$63, 044.80

$6, 304.48

34.7

$45.47

$1, 577.81

$70, 927.09

2016 [8]

$41, 696.43

$4, 169.64

22.3

$46.83

$1, 043.41

$46, 909.48

Total

$290, 600.03

$29, 060.00

161.1

N/A

$7, 083.64

$326, 743.67

         The next issue for Plaintiff is how much these amounts must be offset by her other sources of income between 2011 and 2016. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1) (“Interim earnings or amounts earnable with reasonable diligence by the person or persons discriminated against shall operate to reduce the back pay otherwise allowable.”). In May 2012, Plaintiff began her employment with Schneider Trucks as a Team Over the Road Driver, which involves driving distances greater than 500 miles in teams. [170-7, at 6.] That employment ended in May 2014. [174, at 2.] Plaintiff then started work for Bear Cartage & Intermodal, Inc. within that same month (id.), but was terminated on May 20, 2015 [170-2]. Plaintiff also received unemployment benefits in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and she deducts these amounts from her own calculations. See Smith v. Farmstand, 2016 WL 5912886, at *22 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 11, 2016) (“Whether to deduct unemployment compensation from an award of back pay is within the discretion of the trial court.”). In 2016, Plaintiff was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital [174-1, at 14]. Plaintiff's sources of income between 2011 and 2016 are reflected in the following chart:

Year

Unemployment

Schneider

Bear

VA

Total Other Compensation

2011

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$0

2012

$11, 748.00

$10, 782.84

$0.00

$0.00

$22, 530.84

2013

$257.00

$15, 264.80

$0.00

$0.00

$15, 521.80

2014

$0.00

$10, 443.18

$29, 001.63

$0.00

$39, 444.81

2015

$9, 931.00

$0.00

$13, 187.95

$6, 930.00[9]

$30, 048.95

2016

$0.00

$0.00

$0.00

$20, 522.00[10]

$20, 522.00

Total

$21, 936.00

$36, 490.82

$42, 189.58

$27, 452.00

$128, 068.40


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