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Warren v. Main Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

January 2, 2018

LOUIS E. WARREN Plaintiff,
v.
MAIN INDUSTRIES INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Louis E. Warren Jr.'s ("Plaintiff or "Mr. Warren") Petition for Equitable Relief. On October 12, 2017, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Warren finding Main Industries Inc., ("Defendant" or "Main Industries") liable for employment discrimination on the basis of race pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ECF Nos. 39-40. The jury awarded Plaintiff $150, 000 in compensatory damages. Id. at 40. Now, before the Court is the issue of front pay and back pay damages. Having carefully reviewed the parties' pleadings, the Court finds this matter ripe for judicial determination without an additional hearing. The Court will consider the appropriateness of each relief in turn.

         A. Back Pay Damages

         Generally, a prevailing plaintiff under Title VII is entitled to back pay. See Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, Ml U.S. 405, 420-21 (1975). In Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, the United States Supreme Court ("Supreme Court") established a strong presumption in favor of back pay awards to victims of employment discrimination under Title VII. Id. The Supreme Court has held that back pay is awarded "to make persons whole for injuries suffered on account of unlawful employment discrimination." Id. at 418. The back pay period of recovery commences from the time the discriminatory act causes economic injury, and terminates on the date of judgment. See Wells v. North Carolina Bd of Alcoholic Control, 714 F.2d 340, 342 (4th Cir. 1983). However, "the right of a successful Title VII plaintiff to claim back pay is limited in degree by the statutory duty to mitigate employer damages, " and a plaintiff "forfeits his right to back pay if he refuses a job substantially equivalent to the one he was denied." Brady v. Thurston Motor Lines, Inc., 753 F.2d 1269, 1273 (4th Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). The defendant carries the burden of establishing that a plaintiff "did not exert reasonable efforts to mitigate . .. damages." Martin v. Cavalier Hotel Corp., 48 F.3d 1343, 1358 (4th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted).

         1. Time Period

         The parties stipulated in the Final Pre-Trial Order that Plaintiff was terminated on December 16, 2015.[1]ECF No. 27. Thus, the Court will consider the back pay time period commencing on December 16, 2015, and terminating on October 12, 2017, the date the verdict was entered. See ECF No. 40.

         2. Mitigation

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to mitigate damages and therefore is not entitled to back pay. See generally ECF No. 45. In support, Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not conduct reasonable job search activities, failed to submit a sufficient number of job applications during the period of his unemployment, improperly quit a job he was offered, and refused to report to an additional job opportunity. Id. at 1-2. The Court rejects Defendant's arguments and finds that Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support a reasonable effort to mitigate damages. Plaintiff presented evidence at trial, that following his termination, he inquired into approximately fifteen different painting companies for potential employment and submitted ten applications. See ECF No. 44-1 at 21. Defendant also employed himself by working approximately ten painting "side jobs" to earn money. Id. at 36-37.

         Moreover, while Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to mitigate damages because he did not use specific methods, .i.e., conducting job searches online, checking the newspaper or other printed materials for job postings, see ECF No. 45 at 4, the Court is unpersuaded. On the contrary, such specificity is not required as Plaintiff need make only "reasonable efforts" to mitigate his damages. See Martin, 48 F.3d at 1343. Likewise, the Court rejects Defendant's argument that Plaintiff failed to mitigate damages because he did not apply for an employment with a specific company - Northrop Grumman. See ECF No. 45 at 3. Moreover, considering that Plaintiff utilized his sister to assist with job searching given his lack of familiarity with a computer, see ECF No. 44-lat 39, 43-44, and, travelled to various companies in pursuit of potential employment opportunities, id., the Court finds that Plaintiff made reasonable efforts to mitigate damages. The Court is also unpersuaded by Defendant's argument that Plaintiff failed to mitigate damages because he rejected two potential employment opportunities - Smithfield Food' dog food plant and a private painting company. See ECF No.45 at 3.

         According to Plaintiff, he was offered and accepted a job at Smithfield Food, but quit shortly after his first day because the plant's smell made him sick. ECF No. 44-1 at 21, 40-41. The Court finds that Plaintiff did not fail to mitigate damages because he resigned from this position. The Supreme Court has held that a claimant "need not go into another line of work, accept a demotion, or take a demeaning position." See Ford Motor Co. v. E.E.O.C, 458 U.S 219, 231 (1982). Instead, "the burden regarding mitigation requires the defendant to prove that substantially equivalent work was available and that the employee did not use reasonable diligence to obtain it." See Crump v. United States Dept. Navy, 205 F.Supp.3d 730, 745 (E.D. Va. 2016) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Here, the Court finds that the Smithfield Food dog plant position was not comparable employment. Indeed, that position would have required Plaintiff to work in an environment where the conditions made him sick. Moreover, the compensation for this position was significantly less given that the job at Smithfield paid $9.50 an hour while Plaintiff made $21.50 per hour while employed at Main Industries. See ECF No. 44-1 at 41; ECF No. 27 at 2.[2]

         The Court is also unpersuaded by Defendant's argument that Plaintiff failed to take reasonable efforts to mitigate damages because he did not report to a job opportunity at a private painting company. ECF No. 45 at 3. At trial, Plaintiff testified that he was offered a job at a private painting company but was unable to work on the requested day because he had to see his attorney. ECF No. 44-1 at 41. The Court does not find Plaintiffs explanation unreasonable. Plaintiffs interest in his suit and his availability in assisting counsel to prepare a meritorious case, are not unreasonable interests or frivolous pursuits. Moreover, Plaintiff showed a willingness to work given testimony that on two occasions he was headed to work for the company but was informed while in route he was not needed. See Id. at 41-42. Additionally, Defendant fails to demonstrate that the work was substantially equivalent. See Ford, 458 U.S at 231. On the contrary, Defendant simply asserts that Plaintiffs failure to maintain the employment was an unreasonable effort to support mitigation of damages. See ECF No. 45 at 4. This is not sufficient and thus Defendant fails to meet its burden.

         In sum, the Court finds that Defendant fails to meet its burden to demonstrate that substantially equivalent work was available and that Mr. Warren did not use reasonable diligence to obtain it. Accordingly, Plaintiffs award of back pay will not be reduced or eliminated for failure to mitigate damages.

         3. Calculation

         In calculating a dollar amount for a back pay award, the Court aims to "to make the victims of unlawful discrimination whole, " and restore them "so far as possible ... to a position where they would have been were it not for the unlawful discrimination." Albemarle, 422 U.S. at 421 (internal quotation omitted). Moreover, in calculating a back pay award, a court should include other kinds of employment including employment compensation, e.g., fringe benefits, reasonably anticipated salary increases, etc. See Crump, 205 F.Supp.3d at 745 (citations omitted). However, the burden is on the Plaintiff to demonstrate that these benefits were part of the earnings lost as a result of the unlawful employment action. See id.; see also Herring v. Thomasville Furniture Indus., Inc., No. 4:96CV00081, 1999 WL 1937352, at * 5 (M.D. N.C. Aug. 31, 1999) (holding that Plaintiff failed to present evidence on which the Court could base an award of raises, bonuses, ...


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