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Thursday, April 18, 2024 | Back issues
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7th Circuit Upholds Bias Verdict, but Cuts Award

(CN) - The 7th Circuit upheld a jury's finding that a hospital placed a black paramedic on probation because of his race, but slashed the paramedic's award from $500,000 to $250,000.

Archie Thompson was the only black paramedic in the Southern Illinois Regional Emergency Medical System in 2003, when he was placed on three months' paid probation for failing to call medical control and report that a diabetic woman had declined further treatment. Thompson had treated the patient in her home and offered to take her to the hospital in an ambulance, but she declined.

Thompson said other paramedics handled diabetic patients in the same way, but were not placed on probation.

"Thompson was the only paramedic in the system placed on probation for violating the diabetic protocol," the ruling states.

Thompson sued the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and the Jackson County Ambulance Service, alleging racial discrimination and a hostile work environment.

He said Paula Bierman, the emergency medical system coordinator, told him, "Yes, it's because you are black you can't do what other paramedics do, and I'll be watching you."

Another former paramedic said she a supervisor allowed employees to refer to blacks as "nigger" and "coon" in his presence.

A federal judge dismissed all claims against the ambulance service and ruled for the hospital on Thompson's hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims. The only allegation to proceed to trial was the racial discrimination claim.

Memorial Hospital appealed the jury's verdict for Thompson and the damages award, and Thompson cross-appealed the dismissal of his hostile work environment and constructive discharge claims.

The federal appeals court in Chicago upheld both the lower court's finding and the jury's verdict, noting that the hospital shifted its defense on appeal.

"Although it defended its case at trial on the basis that race was not the reason for the probation decision, it argues different theories on appeal," Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote. "We conclude that none warrant reversal."

Memorial Hospital had argued on appeal that it didn't have a contractual relationship with Thompson, and that no adverse employment action had occurred.

"We do, however, find that remittitur of the $500,000 verdict to $250,000 is warranted," Williams wrote.

"[T]he $500,000 award is excessive in this case in light of the circumstances, including that Thompson was placed on probation with no change to his compensation and the nature of Thompson's emotional distress, which although not to be discounted, does not warrant a half-million dollar award."

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