Employees who win discrimination lawsuits against their former employers sometimes are entitled to more than money.
In the right circumstances, they are entitled to other things to make them “whole” again, including positive references, notice when a prospective employer contacts the former employer and changes to the separation notice sent to the Georgia Department of Labor.
The judge who hears the case determines what additional remedy the employee is entitled to.
Recent case: Artie Fitzgerald sued Carriage House Imports, alleging that he had suffered discrimination based on his race. In a separation notice filed with the Georgia Department of Labor, the company said it had fired Fitzgerald for “serious infraction of company policy/unprofessional behavior with customer on showroom floor.”
Apparently a jury decided that reason was false because it awarded Fitzgerald a total of $205,000 in back pay and compensatory damages, plus $155,000 in punitive damages. Fitzgerald then asked the court to order either reinstatement or future lost pay (front pay). He also asked that the former employer be enjoined from issuing anything but a neutral reference, report any information requests to his attorneys and change the separation notice to reflect the truth.
But while the trial was going on, the company had gone out of business. That meant, the judge reasoned, that there was no job to which Fitzgerald could return. Furthermore, he was not entitled to future lost wages because the employer no longer existed. The court also said Fitzgerald’s reference and reporting request wasn’t practical, given the employer’s status.
It did, however, order that the separation notice be altered to read, “The reason previously given for termination has been determined by a jury to be pretext for discrimination. Artie Fitzgerald was unlawfully terminated by this employer.” (Harris, Fitzgerald v. Carriage House Imports, No. 1:03-CV-106, ND GA, 2008)
Final note: If your organization loses a discrimination lawsuit and is ordered to provide neutral references, make sure all supervisors and managers understand their obligation. Ignoring a court order, in this case, can mean jail time for contempt of court as well as a libel and slander lawsuit.
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