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Dorr v. Woodlands Senior Living of Brewer LLC

United States District Court, D. Maine

May 10, 2017



          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         After a three-day trial, a jury determined that in terminating Plaintiff's employment, Defendant discriminated against Plaintiff because of a disability, and that Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's right to take family medical leave. (Jury Verdict, ECF No. 102.) The jury declined to award Plaintiff damages on the discrimination claim, but awarded Plaintiff $15, 000 in back pay on the family medical leave claim.

         The matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Supplemental Relief, through which motion Plaintiff requests reinstatement, certain injunctive relief regarding Defendant's policies and Plaintiff's employment records, and the award of nominal and liquidated damages together with interest. (Motion, ECF No. 104.)

         After consideration of the parties' arguments and the record evidence, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motion. The Court also directs the entry of judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and the findings herein.

         I. Reinstatement and Injunctive Relief

         The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act provide the Court with authority, upon a finding that an employer engaged in discrimination based on an employee's disability, to “enjoin the respondent from engaging in such unlawful employment practice, and order such affirmative action as may be appropriate, ” including “reinstatement.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 12117, 2000e-5. Similarly, both the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(B), and the Maine Family Medical Leave Requirements Act, 26 M.R.S. § 848(1), permit equitable relief in the form of reinstatement. “Among the factors relevant to the reinstatement analysis [is] whether the discharged employee has found comparable work.” Velazquez v. Figueroa-Gomez, 996 F.2d 425, 429 (1st Cir. 1993) (political discrimination case).

         Plaintiff argues that she should be reinstated as an employee with Defendant “with all raises and other benefits of seniority” she would have obtained had she continuously worked for Defendant. The Court is not persuaded reinstatement is appropriate in this case.

         After the termination of her employment, Plaintiff secured full-time employment with another employer for which employer she performs similar tasks as she performed with Defendant, and from which employer Plaintiff is paid at a higher rate than she received from Defendant. Plaintiff has failed, at trial and post-trial, to present any evidence to suggest that she intends to leave her current employment. To the contrary, during the hearing on the post-trial motions, Plaintiff suggested the Court order Defendant to permit Plaintiff to work on a per diem basis to complement her work for her current employer. The position from which Plaintiff was terminated was not a per diem position. Such a request is thus not a request for reinstatement. The request reinforces the Court's belief that Plaintiff has no real interest in returning to work for Defendant.

         Plaintiff also asks the Court to order Defendant: (1) to change its policy regarding employees who leave the workplace due to a disability; (2) to correct information in Plaintiff's personnel file to reflect that Defendant “unlawfully terminated [Plaintiff] because of discrimination, ” and she did not abandon her position; and (3) to provide additional training to its managers. Plaintiff's request for the modification of her personnel records is reasonable and the modification is appropriate given the jury's determination. In the post-trial submissions, Defendant identified the training it has provided and will continue to provide for its managers. The Court concludes that Defendant's policies and its training are reasonable and no modification of the policies and training is necessary. To assure Defendant complies with its policies and its training, however, the Court will order Defendant to document when the training is conducted and to whom the training is provided.

         II. Nominal Damages

         The jury found Plaintiff did not prove that Defendant's disability discrimination caused Plaintiff's damages. Plaintiff thus requests the Court award nominal damages based on the jury's finding of discrimination.

         “Nominal damages are intended to recognize a plaintiff's legal injury when no actual monetary damages may be discerned.” Romano v. U-Haul Int'l, 233 F.3d 655, 671 (1st Cir. 2000). A nominal damage award is by nature “minimal, ” but it is not limited to $1. Id.

         In this Circuit, an award of nominal damages is obligatory in a case involving a constitutional violation. Azimi v. Jordan's Meats, Inc., 456 F.3d 228, 239 (1st Cir. 2006). The First Circuit, however, has not held that a nominal damage award is obligatory in statutory civil rights cases. Id. Nevertheless, the First Circuit has observed that even in civil rights cases, the rule regarding a party's request for nominal damages is “plaintiff-friendly in the sense that it does not require that plaintiffs make a strategic choice whether to ask for a nominal damages instruction.” Id. at 240.

         Before the Court instructed the jury, Plaintiff requested that the Court not instruct the jury on nominal damages, and that the Court address the issue post-verdict if necessary. “If, as here, the plaintiff chooses not to give the jury the nominal damages question, then he or she must make a timely request to the court by requesting nominal damages on the occasion of, or immediately after, the return of the verdict.” Id. (emphasis in original, internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff preserved the right to nominal damages before the verdict, and made a timely request post-verdict. Given the First Circuit's decision and reasoning in Azimi, in the absence of a compelling reason for a contrary result, a post-verdict award of nominal damages by a district court is appropriate, as a matter of law, [1]when the jury ...

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