September 28, 2022

Volume XII, Number 271

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Tenth Circuit Affirms $1 Million Jury Award to Whistleblower

On July 20, 2022, the Tenth Circuit affirmed a $1 million jury award to a former employee who claimed he was demoted in retaliation for reporting that his supervisor instructed him to falsify test results on a program used by the U.S. military.  Casias v. Raytheon Co., Nos. 21-1195 and 21-1205 (10th Cir. 2022).

Background

Plaintiff alleged that his supervisor instructed him to change certain data on a GPS project designed for the U.S. Air Force, which made the project appear more successful.  Plaintiff allegedly complied and then immediately notified leadership of his superior’s instruction.  A few months later, Plaintiff was reassigned from his testing role, where he managed dozens of employees, to a minor role managing only two employees.  Plaintiff eventually accepted a position at a different defense contractor where his salary, benefits and rank were lower.

Plaintiff filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado alleging various claims, including a claim under the Defense Contractor Whistleblower Protection Act (“DCWPA”).  The jury found for Plaintiff, and awarded him $43,000 in backpay and $1,000,000 in noneconomic damages.  The district court struck the backpay award but confirmed the noneconomic damages award.  The company filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and remittitur after trial, arguing: (1) Plaintiff did not show an adverse employment action or causation; (2) the noneconomic damages were excessive; and (3) the weight of evidence was against Plaintiff.

Ruling

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the $1 million jury award, finding that Plaintiff presented enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find for him on all of the issues appealed.  First, the Tenth Circuit found that it was reasonable for the jury to infer Plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action because Plaintiff’s reassignment was a change in responsibilities with a decrease in reputation and job prospects, and Plaintiff was hired at a lower rank and salary at his subsequent job.  Second, the jury could reasonably infer Plaintiff’s superior retaliated against him, even though the superior lacked a personal reason for doing so.  Finally, the Tenth Circuit found the damages were not excessive because the act of falsifying information used by the U.S. military could have far reaching repercussions, and retaliating against an employee for reporting that falsification is a serious violation of the DCWPA.  Although the $1 million jury award was indeed large, the Tenth Circuit found that the award did not represent a “miscarriage of justice” given the circumstances.

Implications

This sizeable adverse jury verdict highlights the risks that employers may face in trying whistleblower retaliation suits to a jury and may lead to further similar lawsuits.

© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 263
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About this Author

Steven J Pearlman, Labor Employment Law Firm, Proskauer Law firm
Partner

Steven Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the firm's Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group, resident in the Chicago office. Steven’s practice focuses on defending complex employment litigation involving claims of discrimination and harassment, wage-and-hour laws and breaches of restrictive covenants (e.g., non-competition agreements). He has successfully tried cases to verdict before judges and juries in Illinois, Florida and California, and defended what is reported to be the largest Illinois-only class action in the history of the U.S....

312-962-3545
Pinny Goldberg Labor and Employment Lawyer Proskauer Rose Law Firm
Associate

Pinny Goldberg is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department. Pinny represents employers in a broad array of matters before federal and state courts, FINRA and other arbitration panels, and administrative agencies, including the EEOC and its state equivalents, and in pre-litigation negotiations. Matters he works on include discrimination and harassment, wage and hour, wrongful discharge, whistleblowing and retaliation, covenants not to compete, breaches of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and tort and contract claims. 

In...

212.969.3074
Associate

Sydney Cone earned her J.D. from Tulane University Law School, where she was the Senior Online Editor of the Tulane Maritime Law Journal and co-president of Tulane Women in the Law.

Prior to law school, Sydney was a paralegal for Lankler, Siffert, and Wohl, LLP, focusing on white collar criminal and civil litigation.

504.310.3043
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