Work is stressful enough without having to deal with racist bosses. But if and when it happens, don’t hit them in their feels — hit them in their pockets. Jennifer Harris had the right idea when she accused FedEx of retaliating against her for reporting racial discrimination and received a $366 million verdict. Unfortunately, making it past opposing counsel’s arguments wasn’t the real challenge — it was making it past the judges. From Law360:
The Fifth Circuit on Thursday cut a $366 million verdict against FedEx in a former employee’s suit alleging she was fired for filing racial bias complaints down to just under $249,000, finding that some of the employee’s claims were time-barred and that she was not entitled to punitive damages.
The three-judge appellate panel, in a published opinion, agreed with FedEx that a six-month limitation provision in Jennifer Harris’ employment contract bars her racial discrimination claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981, saying the Texas district court should not have let those claims proceed to trial.
That’s gotta hurt more than the initial firing!
The initial jury decision was so high largely due to punitive damages. Of the original $366M, ~$1M went toward future mental anguish, $120k covered prior pain and suffering, with $365M in punishment money taking the lion’s share. The new balance of ~$250k is paltry if we consider the goals of filing racial discrimination claims. It is obviously important to make the plaintiff whole, but punitives incentivize companies to get their shit together. Be it a company like FedEx or Tesla, the high costs of trial generally cut in their favor. Affording an attorney is hard enough under normal circumstances — hiring counsel doesn’t magically get easier when you’re out of a job. Post firing, it is generally cheaper for the company to either waive the cost of hiring council or settle quickly and move on. The threat of punitives changes that calculus and actually encourages reformative spillover. It only takes one $366M loss to heavily encourage most workplaces to reform their behavior.
There were some statute of limitations issues here that justified the payout reduction. Let this be your reminder that if you have a claim, file it quickly before the judges file down your payday.
FedEx Gets 5th Circ. To Slash $366M Bias Verdict To $249K [Law360]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and by tweet at @WritesForRent.