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Reed v. Department of Corrections/Commonwealth

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

November 7, 2014

KRISTIE ST. CLAIR REED, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS/COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, Defendant.

MEMOMNDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

On September 23, 2014, a jury found for the plaintiff, Kristie St. Clair Reed, on her retaliation claim brought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42

U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq. Reed has now filed a Petition for Back Pay and Front Pay ("the petition"), Docket No. 53, seeking equitable relief pursuant to that statute. The defendant, Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), has responded to the petition, Docket No. 56. The matter is now ripe for review.

Background

The facts of this case are outlined in detail in the court's memorandum opinion granting in part and denying in part VDOC's motion for summary judgment, Docket No. 35. Thus, only a brief summary follows here.

Reed worked as a senior correctional officer at Bland Correctional Center ("BCC") in Bland, Virginia from 2007 until she was terminated in 2012. Prior to her termination, Reed earned $31, 746.00 annually in that position. See Petition Ex. A, Docket No. 53-1. Reed was sexually harassed by a BCC coworker. She reported this harassment to BCC management on April 9, 2012, and was terminated from her position on May 18, 2012. Reed subsequently brought this action against VDOC on November 15, 2013, alleging in part that VDOC terminated her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment in violation of Title VII.

Following the liability phase of a bifurcated trial, a jury found for Reed on her retaliation claim, Docket No. 46. After the jury returned this verdict, Reed and VDOC agreed to forego the damages phase of the trial. Instead, the parties stipulated to the amount of compensatory damages to be awarded in this case, Docket No. 41, and submitted the issues of equitable relief and attorney's fees to the court for decision. See Docket No. 48. Reed then submitted this petition, in which she seeks $32, 252.00 in back pay, plus prejudgment interest, and $41, 544.00 in front pay. Id.

Discussion

I. Legal Standard

Title VII is a remedial statute designed in part to make the victims of discrimination whole. As a general rule, a district court has "broad equitable discretion to award back pay, front pay, and interest to effectuate [these] remedial intentions." Ford v. Rigidply Rafters, Inc., 984 F.Supp. 386, 389 (D. Md. 1997); see Franks v. Bowman Transp. Co., 424 U.S. 747, 763-64 (1976); Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 416-17 (1975). "A Title VII plaintiff who is unable to find comparable work is entitled to back pay as a matter of course' unless the defendant produces evidence that [the] plaintiff did not use reasonable efforts to mitigate damages." Ford, 984 F.Supp. at 389 (quoting Martin v. Cavalier Hotel Corp., 48 F.3d 1343, 1358 (4th Cir. 1995)). In a retaliatory discharge case like this one, a back pay award necessarily amounts to the "difference between what the [plaintiff] would have earned had the wrongful [termination] not occurred from the period of termination to judgment, and the [plaintiffs] actual earnings during that period." Id . The sum awarded is within the trial court's discretion. Martin, 48 F.3d at 1358.

Front pay is "money awarded for lost compensation during the period between judgment and reinstatement or in lieu of reinstatement." Pollard v. E.I. duPont Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843, 846 (2001). It "compensate[s] victims of discrimination for the continuing future effects of discrimination until the victim can be made whole." Proffitt v. Veneman, No. 5:01-CV-00067, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21906, at *4 (W.D. Va. Nov. 6, 2002). "The award of front pay rests squarely within the district court's discretion, which must be tempered' by the potential for windfall' to the plaintiff." Id . (quoting Nichols v. Ashland Hosp. Corp., 251 F.3d 496, 504 (4th Cir. 2001)). The court, therefore, "must judiciously scrutinize the record to determine whether future events are sufficiently predictable to justify such an award." Ford, 984 F.Supp. at 392; see Evans v. Larchmont Baptist Church Infant Care Ctr., Inc., 956 F.Supp.2d 695, 708 (E.D. Va. 2013) (declining to award front pay when doing so would require "assum[ing] certain unknowns" and "would [therefore] be unduly speculative and inappropriate").

With this legal framework in mind, the court will now determine the amount of back pay and front pay, if any, to which Reed is entitled in this case.

II. Back Pay

As a successful Title VII plaintiff, Reed is entitled to back pay "as a matter of course." Martin, 48 F.3d at 1358. VDOC has asserted several arguments, however, suggesting that the back pay award should be limited in this case. First, VDOC asserts that Reed's award should be reduced by the amount of unemployment benefits she received following her termination. Second, VDOC ...


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