In Luri v. Republic Services, Inc., the jury awarded “the largest retaliatory discharge jury award in Ohio history-over $46 million.” In this retaliation case, the plaintiff was part of a protected class only by virtue of his refusal to follow a directive from his supervisor to fire three employees on the basis of their age. Shortly after pointing out that two of these individuals had strong performance evaluations and refusing to fire them without cause might lead to a lawsuit, his supervisor downgraded his performance evaluations. Luri was then placed on a performance improvement plan that led to his termination.
The damages award comprised mostly of punitive damages ($43 million out of the $46 million). In other words, the vast majority of Luri’s damages were not based on any loss or harm that Luri actually suffered (e.g., lost income, emotional harm, etc.). In fact, Luri’s compensatory damages came out to $3.5 million, plus $1 million in attorneys’ fees.
It appears that two things contributed to such a large punitive damage award in this retaliation case. Luri was not himself alleging to be part of any protected class by virtue of his age, race, religion, etc. Instead, his employer fired him for sticking up for the people who are members of such a class. The jury seemed especially sympathetic for this plaintiff, because he was sticking up for the underdog and also because this situation is not as common as a claim for race, age, or gender discrimination. Another thing that may have influenced the jury’s high punitive damages award was that the defendants were found to have altered or fabricated evidence (at least one piece, maybe up to three pieces) after Luri filed his suit.
The Court of Appeals overruled the employer’s complaints with regard to the compensatory damages award because it found the defendants had failed to raise their concerns properly at the lower court and had, in fact, invited the error by their own conduct. However, the Court did remand the punitive damages award. The Ohio Tort Reform statute required the Court, upon the defendants’ motion, to limit punitive damages to a maximum of two times the compensatory damages award. Here, Luri’s punitive damage award could not be any greater than $7 million.
By: Chelsea Long