In the latest chapter of the ongoing case of Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the New Jersey Appellate Division has ruled that while an employer, found to have terminated an employee in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“the LAD”), has the burden of persuasion to establish a plaintiff’s failure to mitigate damages with respect to back pay, the employer does not have the burden of persuasion with respect to a plaintiff’s failure to mitigate future losses, including front pay. In reversing a jury award for front pay in the amount of $3,650,318 because of improper jury instructions on the front pay issue, the Appellate Division suggested a framework for proper jury instructions on front pay damages and referred the issue to the Model Civil Jury Charge Committee. The Court also reversed the jury’s punitive damages award of over $4.5 million, concluding that that award was linked to the front pay award. The Court held that a new trial was required on both the front pay issue and on punitive damages.
As we previously reported in 2009 and 2010, the Quinlan case has been the subject of much judicial review in recent years. Briefly summarized, the plaintiff, Joyce Quinlan, was employed as the Executive Director of Human Resources at Curtiss-Wright Corporation. She alleged that Curtiss-Wright discriminated against her in violation of the LAD by giving a promotion she sought to a man who was then made her supervisor. To support her case, Quinlan, due to her position in the Human Resources department, was able to collect over 1,800 pages of confidential documents, including a copy of her supervisor’s prior performance appraisal. Rather than produce this document in the course of discovery during the lawsuit, Quinlan’s counsel surprised the supervisor with it at his deposition. Shortly thereafter, Curtiss-Wright terminated Quinlan’s employment for breach of company policies and theft of company property. Quinlan then added a retaliation claim to her pending lawsuit, claiming that Curtiss-Wright had terminated her in retaliation for engaging in “protected activity” in prosecuting her discrimination claim.
At the conclusion of the case, the jury awarded Quinlan an aggregate sum of $4,565,479 in compensatory damages, including $3,650,318 in future (i.e., post-trial) economic losses, including front pay. In addition, the jury awarded Quinlan $4,565,479 in punitive damages, a figure that matched the aggregate award for compensatory damages. After appeals of other discrete issues were ultimately decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the case was remanded to the Appellate Division for a determination of issues not considered by the Supreme Court, including the propriety of the front pay award and the adequacy of the jury instructions regarding same.