Jury Awards Age Discrimination Claimant $200,000 For Retaliation
The verdict last month in Konsavage v. Mondalez Global, LLC, Case No. 3:15-cv-01155 (M.D. Pa.) provides another example of the difficulty in predicting the outcome of a retaliation claim – even where the underlying discrimination claims appear to be weak.
In Konsavage, the plaintiff employee had worked for Nabisco and its successor, Mondelez Global, LLC, for 30 years as of early 2013 when she was employed as an inventory manager. At that time, a new supervisor was assigned to oversee her work, and soon thereafter the plaintiff alleged age and gender discrimination against the supervisor. Among other things, the plaintiff alleged the supervisor told her: not to speak at meetings so younger people could speak; to step aside from some of her work so younger employees could shine and build their careers; that she had no further potential; and that he preferred that male employees handle certain matters rather than the plaintiff.
The plaintiff complained to human resources about the supervisor’s conduct. Subsequently, the plaintiff’s position was downgraded and she received a pay cut. According to the employer, the plaintiff was eventually terminated because a company investigation revealed she had instructed her subordinates to give her good ratings on a company survey regarding her job performance, and that she lied during the investigation.
The plaintiff commenced a lawsuit alleging age discrimination, gender discrimination and retaliation. After a five-day trial, the jury found for the employer on the age and gender discrimination claims, but found that the plaintiff’s termination was retaliatory. The jury awarded the plaintiff $200,000 for emotional distress even though three members of the plaintiff’s team had confirmed the company’s position that the plaintiff had tried to influence the results of the survey in her favor.
The take for employers is that when they are faced with a trial they must independently evaluate the employee’s retaliation claim separate and apart from the underlying discrimination claim(s). As the Konsavage verdict demonstrates, a weak discrimination claim does not negate the possibility of a bad outcome on the corresponding retaliation claim.