Most of $3.5 Million Age Discrimination Verdict Upheld

Lawrence Trainor was a 59 year-old executive in the hotel business.  HEI wanted Trainor to relocate his home and office to Connecticut.  Trainor refused.  HEI offered Mr. Trainor a demotion to run a hotel in Cambridge.  He was not subject to overt or obvious age discrimination, but nevertheless filed an age discrimination charge with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”).  Three hours later, HEI fired Mr. Trainor.  Read the full Trainor v. HEI Hopsitality, LLC decision by clicking here.

At trial, the jury disbelieved HEI’s claim that “the elimination of the plaintiff’s position and his eventual termination were part of a larger plan set in motion long before the plaintiff” filed a charge of discrimination with MCAD.   The jury believed that any plans of restructuring were still “in flux until after” Trainor engaged in the protected activities.

The jury awarded Mr. Trainor $500,000 in back pay, $750,000 in front pay, and $1,000,000 for emotional distress, which the trial judge doubled due to the defendant’s knowing violation of the law.  That’s a $3.5 million verdict (plus the defendants probably had to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees).  The U.S. Circuit Court for the First Circuit reduce the the emotional distress damages to $200,000, but this still left HEI with a multi-million dollar liability.

What This Means To You: Retaliation claims are so powerful because they can turn perfectly legal conduct into illegal, costly acts.  From the First Circuit’s decision, it does not seem like Trainor had a slam dunk case of age discrimination.  Nevertheless, because HEI took its action against Trainor so quickly after it learned of Mr. Trainor’s charge of discrimination to MCAD, HEI turned a likely weak case into a very strong and costly one.  Employers should treat charges of discrimination seriously and carefully, and avoid for several months taking any adverse action against an employee who has made a complaint of discrimination.  Employees should be aware that an adverse action such as termination or demotion shortly after a claim of discrimination has been filed may very well be illegal.  Contact Muller Law or another employment law firm for more information on how this case applies to your particular situation.