The Cost of a Complaint - $1.5 to the City of Honolulu
by Michael Fox
At least that is the amount that a federal jury decided painter Tom Sun should get after he claimed he was retaliated against for speaking out about the safety preparations for painting a city facility, the Blaisdell Center. Although he was not fired or suspended he alleged he was "written up, falsely accused of violence, denied medical leave and denied work." Hard to tell from the KITV 4 story, City Painter Awarded $1.5 Million in Federal Court, exactly what got the jury so upset.
But according to the story on the trial in yesterday's BNA Daily Labor Report ($ subscription required), the jury was impacted by the number of safety violations at the Blaisdell Center and the fact that children attending summer programs at the Center might have been endangered as well. The plaintiff's counsel, Venetia Carpenter-Asui, said she thought the jury wanted -- "to send a message to the City" -- words that should strike terror in any potential defendant still of the view that juries only decide on "the merits" viewed through a legal framework. Easy to see how it could happen here since the legal arguments were strong enough that summary judgment had been granted three years ago, although reversed on appeal.
If nothing else, the verdict, which will be appealed again, is a good reminder -- if anyone still needs one -- that retaliation cases, even when employees are not terminated, resonate with juries in a powerful and potentially expensive way.