Punitive damages for wrongful termination. Colucci vs. T. Mobile.

A former employee of T. Mobile, Stephen Colucci, was awarded $5 million in a lawsuit based on employment discrimination and wrongful termination. The award included $4 million in punitive damages and $200,000 for future emotional distress. The appellate court reduced the punitive damage award to 1.5 times the compensatory damage. the amount of compensatory damage was $1 million. – so the punitive damage award was reduced to nearly $1.5 million. Otherwise, the appellate court reaffirmed the original jury verdict.

The case was based on the following facts

Mr. Colucci worked as a retail manager for T-Mobile for seven years. In 2014, he was informed that he was going to have to work at a T-Mobile kiosk at the Ontario Mills Mal. Colucci, was has several medical conditions (PTST, agoraphobia, and a panic disorder) informed his new regional manager of his disability. He also disclosed the disability to human resources. Colucci suggested a transfer to a different location or staying in the store he was managing. Ultimately, he wasn’t transferred but he was mocked and orally abused by the new boss.

Colucci filed a harassment complaint within T-Mobile. On learning of the complaint, his boss fired him – claiming a company conflict of interest. At trial, Colucci’s legal team showed that the firing was indeed retaliatory. The company human resources department failed to investigate Colucci’s complaint and agreed to the firing.

The appellate court reasoning

The appellate court found that there was “sufficient evidence” to justify a punitive damages award because the person who fired him was a managing agent and because that agent acted with malice or oppression

The appellate court, based on its reding of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, found that punitive damages can’t be grossly excessive or arbitrary. The guides for considering grossly excessive and arbitrary awards are:

  • The degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s misconduct. The court found that the harm to Colucci was physical (because of his disability) and negatively affected his mental health. However, the court found that the act was a one-time act (as opposed to a repetitive act – a pattern) and that Colucci didn’t present evidence of his financial vulnerability. Therefor while punitive damages should apply, the degree of misconduct was in the low to moderate range.
  • The disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages award. The court favored a low multiplier (1.5) on the amount of compensatory damages.
  • “The difference between the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases.” The court found that T-Mobile did not present sufficient evidence to consider this factor.

The appellate court then found that the non-economic emotional damage award of $200,000 was justified.

At the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, we demand the full damages that statutes and common law allow for wrongful termination and employment discrimination. This includes back pay, front pay, loss of benefits, emotional damages (where permitted) and punitive damages. If you were wrongfully fired, call us at 877-789-9707 or use our online contact form to make an appointment. Se habla espanol.