Volvo Must Pay Iraq War Vet With PTSD $850K for Job Bias

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By Patrick Dorrian

A federal judge in Chicago ordered Volvo Group N.A. to pay an Iraq war veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder $850,740 for disability discrimination and military status bias ( Arroyo v. Volvo Grp. N.A., LLC , 2017 BL 242221, N.D. Ill., No. 12-cv-6859, 7/13/17 ).

The July 13 judgment in favor of LuzMaria Arroyo includes $550,740 in back pay, front pay, and other equitable relief awarded by the judge in a separate July 13 ruling. The court, however, cut to $300,000 a jury’s August 2016 award of $7.8 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Arroyo under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The reduction was required by the $300,000 statutory damages cap applicable to the ADA for employers with more than 500 employees, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said.

The decision reaffirms that while reinstatement typically is the preferred remedy for a discriminatory termination, it often isn’t a viable option given the hard feelings that develop between an employee and an employer as a result of a disputed employment action and ensuing litigation.

The court awarded Arroyo front pay after deciding it couldn’t grant her request to be reinstated to her old job as a material handler in Volvo’s Joliet, Ill., facility. The lingering “extensive acrimony” between Arroyo and the company made reinstatement inappropriate, and Arroyo offered no evidence that her material-handler position was still available, it said. Moreover, the “number of accommodations” she sought as part of her reinstatement request “cast doubt” on whether she really wanted her old job back, the court said.

The parties didn’t respond July 14 to Bloomberg BNA’s requests for comment.

Damages Serve ‘Deterrent’ Purpose

The new, equitable relief awarded by Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. includes $275,415 in liquidated damages under the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. That law provides job protections for employees who leave civilian jobs for the military service.

The jury found as part of its Aug. 26, 2016 verdict that Volvo violated USERRA—in addition to the ADA—by discriminating against Arroyo because of her military service. During her Volvo tenure, Arroyo received more than 900 days of military leave, Dow said.

Liquidated damages were awarded based on the jury’s finding that Volvo’s violation of USERRA was willful, the judge said. Imposing those damages on Volvo will serve the “retributive and deterrent objectives” intended by the jury’s punitive damages award, which had to be struck in its entirety under the ADA damages cap, he said.

Arroyo sued Volvo in August 2012 after being terminated in November 2011. She had been with the automaker since June 2005.

John P. Derose and Caitlyn Fogarty Derose of John P. Derose & Associates in Hinsdale, Ill., represented Arroyo. William J. McMahon IV in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Susan E. Bassford Wilson in Chicago, both of Constangy, Brooks and Smith LLP, and Falon M. Wrigley of Armstrong Teasdale LLP in St. Louis represented Volvo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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