Tenth Circuit confirms $1 million jury prize to whistleblower

On July 20, 2022, the Tenth Circuit confirmed a $1 million jury award to a former employee who claimed he was demoted in retaliation for reporting that his supervisor asked him to falsify test results on a program. used by the US military. Casias vs. Raytheon Co.n° 21-1195 and 21-1205 (10th Cir. 2022).

Background

The plaintiff alleged that his supervisor asked him to modify certain data on a GPS project designed for the US Air Force, which made the project more successful. The applicant would have obeyed and would have immediately informed the direction of the instruction of his superior. A few months later, the applicant was reassigned from his tester role, where he managed dozens of employees, to a minor role managing only two employees. The plaintiff eventually accepted a position with another defense contractor where his salary, benefits and rank were lower.

Plaintiff filed an action in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado alleging various claims, including a claim under the Defense Contractors Whistleblower Protection Act (“DCWPA”). The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him $43,000 in back wages and $1,000,000 in non-economic damages. The district court reversed the retroactive payment, but upheld the award of non-economic damages. The company filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and postponement after trial, arguing: (1) the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate adverse employment action or causation; (2) the non-economic damage was excessive; and (3) the weight of the evidence was against the plaintiff.

Decision

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit upheld the jury’s award of $1 million, finding that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find for him all of the issues on appeal. First, the Tenth Circuit found that it was reasonable for the jury to infer that the plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action because the plaintiff’s reassignment was a change of responsibilities with diminished reputation and prospects. of employment, and that the plaintiff had been hired at a lower rank and salary than his subsequent job. Second, the jury could reasonably infer that the plaintiff’s superior had retaliated against him, even though the superior had no personal reason to do so. Finally, the Tenth Circuit found that the damages were not excessive because the act of tampering with information used by the U.S. military could have far-reaching repercussions, and retaliation against an employee for reporting that the tampering constituted a serious violation of the DCWPA. Although the $1 million jury award was indeed significant, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the award did not represent a “miscarriage of justice” under the circumstances.

Consequences

This significant adverse jury verdict highlights the risks employers may face in attempting retaliatory lawsuits against whistleblowers before a jury and may lead to other similar lawsuits.

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