Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Monday, May 19, 2008

City of Brotherly Love? Not Always, At Least Not in the Police Department

When former Philadelphia Mayor, now Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell was quoted as saying that some voters might not be ready to vote for a black candidate before the Keystone state's Democratic primary, some just thought it a bit of a political gaffe, but it may have been he just had some extraordinary insight based on his past experiences.

Or at least you could draw that conclusion from the story behind Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer headline, 3 ex-Phila. police officers win $10 million judgment. The case was reporting the result of a federal court jury verdict in favor of three former white policeman who convinced a jury that they had been retaliated against because they protested how the police department was treating black officers. The awards to the three were for $2,$3 and $5 million.

One interesting note -- the case had originally been thrown out on summary judgment. In reversing the case and sending it back for trial, the 3rd Circuit prophetically wrote:
We find that a jury might well believe that their supervisors made their lives the 'living nightmare' one supervisor promised as payment for opposing unlawful discrimination.
Reading the 41 page opinion will give you a feel for the kind of facts that led at least this jury to make its multi-million dollar finding. Moore v. City of Philadelphia (3rd Cir. 2006)[pdf].

One small but critical point, the headline references a $10 million "judgment." What the story speaks about however is not a judgment, but a verdict. The difference -- a judgment is a finding that you have to pay, once it becomes final; a verdict, is a jury's decision that after post-trial review by the Court, can be turned into a judgment. It's a key distinction, and although a $10 million dollar verdict is bad, and could possibly turn into a $10 million judgment, there is still quite a ways to go.

Still, the point remains whatever the final outcome, this was yet another case where a jury clearly was angered by what they believed happened. You can't necessarily take a verdict to the bank, but as an employer, you certainly should take it to heart.


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