Jury's $4.6M Wrongful Firing Verdict Upheld
(CN) - Regus Group owes $4.6 million to a former employee it fired in retaliation for complaining about its labor violations, a federal judge ruled, denying the company's bid for a new jury trial.
"The jury's verdict in this case obviously came as a surprise to Regus, and was probably tough to swallow," U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns wrote. "But tough to swallow does not mean legally excessive, nor does it mean the court, or opposing counsel, or jurors, must have done something wrong. This case was vigorously and ably tried by competent lawyers, and Regus simply lost."
The 53-page opinion dismisses Regus' attempt to blame its loss on legal error, inadequate jury instruction and jury misconduct.
"Now, having carefully reviewed the record in the case, and having carefully considered all of Regus's arguments for a new trial - serious and flimsy arguments alike - the court finds that Regus needs to accept that loss," Burns wrote Friday. "The jury's verdict stands."
Denise Steffens sued the office space provider in March 2010, claiming she was fired after a meeting with her supervisor where she complained about Regus cutting meal and rest breaks. A jury found Steffens was fired because of those complaints.
Regus moved for a new trial on a host of grounds, including improper jury instruction. Regus said the court did not instruct the jury that Steffens' damages had to have been caused by her alleged wrongful termination. Burns rejected that claim.
"The court understands Regus to be suggesting that the language 'as a result of her termination' in the claim instruction wasn't clear that the termination actually had to be wrongful, and that the language 'as a result of defendant's alleged conduct in the damages instruction' wasn't clear what the alleged conduct was," Burns wrote. "Here is how the court translates that: the court allowed for the jury to find against Regus not because it did anything wrong, but simply because someone had to compensate Steffens for the financial and emotional fallout of losing her job. That is preposterous."
"Nevermind (sic) that the actual instructions were plenty clear that this is a wrongful termination case and that any damages the jury awarded had to have been caused by such a termination, it would have been an outright insult to the jury's intelligence to further admonish it that its job wasn't to make Steffens whole irrespective of any misconduct on Regus's part," he continued. "This was, after all, an adversarial civil trial in a court of law, with one party named the 'Plaintiff' and another labeled the 'Defendant.'"
Burns also shot down Regus' argument that there was not enough evidence of retaliation to merit punitive damages. "It was certainly the jury's prerogative to accept the direct and circumstantial evidence Steffens presented and believe the story she was telling, namely that she was fired for making a report about meal and rest breaks," he wrote. "The court can't toss that verdict simply because it's not the only reasonable interpretation of the evidence."