Friday, January 25, 2008

Fourth Circuit affirms $108,000 jruy verdict against FedEx

In EEOC v. Federal Express Corporation, No. 06-1724 (4th Cir., Jan. 23, 2008) (PDF), the Fourth Circuit unanimously affirmed a $108,000 judgment against FedEx in a disability discrimination case. The EEOC filed suit on behalf of Ronald Lockhart, a former package handler who is deaf. The jury awarded $8,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages for FedEx's failure to reasonably accommodate Lockhart under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

FedEx's arguments on appeal were twofold: (1) that there was insufficient evidence on which to submit the question of punitive damages to the jury; and (2) that the punitive damages award was constitutionally excessive.

On the first issue, the Court found that the evidence supported a punitive award. The EEOC established that Lockhart's supervisors were aware of his disability, familiar with the ADA and FedEx's obligations thereunder, but nevertheless failed to provide sign language interpreters or other accommodations to Lockhart at employee meetings and training sessions. Since 1991, FedEx has maintained an internal ADA compliance manual called the "People Manual." However, the Senior Operations Manager acknowledged at trial that although he knew about the policy, he never utilized the People Manual to ascertain how to accommodate Lockhart's deafness disability. He also failed to train Lockhart's direct supervisor.

Regarding the second issue, the Court held that the 12.5 to 1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages did not render the award unconstitutional. It noted that although the punitive damages award "should bear some reasonable relationship to the corresponding award of compensatory damages," the relationship is "only one factor in an excessiveness analysis. ... Indeed, the [Supreme] Court has specifically declined to draw some mathematical bright line between constitutionally acceptable and unacceptable ratios." Because FedEx's conduct was sufficiently reprehensible, the award was reasonably proportional, and the total award was within the $300,000 statutory cap, the Court found the award not to be unconstitutionally excessive.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Uniform Rules Relating to the Discovery of Electronically Stored Information

This post at K&L Gates Electronic Discovery Law Blog notes that the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws has approved its Uniform Rules Relating to the Discovery of Electronically Stored Information and recommended them for enactment in all the states.

The NCCUSL notes that it borrowed heavily from the 2006 e-discovery amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The NCCUSL Drafting Committee held its initial meeting on April 21-22, 2006 in Detroit, Michigan. At that time, the Drafting Committee decided not to reinvent the wheel. It was the Drafting Committee’s judgment that the significant issues relating to the discovery of information in electronic form had been vetted during the Federal Rules amendment process. Accordingly, this draft mirrors the spirit and direction of the recently adopted amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Drafting Committee has freely adopted, often verbatim, language from both the Federal Rules and comments that it deemed valuable. The rules are modified, where necessary, to accommodate the varying state procedures and are presented in a form that permits their adoption as a discrete set of rules applicable to discovery of electronically stored information.

Although West Virginia's rules of civil procedure are very similar to the federal rules, West Virginia has not been quick to adopt changes to the federal rules--even the more useful ones such as the mandatory Rule 26(a) initial disclosure requirements added in 2000. Perhaps the NCCUSL's recommendations will help prod things along and West Virginia can catch up a bit. Practitioners in this state greatly benefit from uniformity between the state and federal rules. I've been able to resolve numerous discovery disputes by referring to federal case law construing identical federal rules. Discovery compromises can lift a great burden off our trial judges. E-discovery is complex and expensive enough WITH clear rules. Our Supreme Court of Appeals can head off a lot of headaches by adopting e-discovery rules similar to these without delay.

Update: An article appears today at called "Mining E-Discovery Stateside" noting that 7 states have adopted E-discovery amendments, and another 14 are considering them. West Virginia is not on either list. Maybe Rory could give us an update on where we stand.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Interest rate set for 2008 judgments

According to this press release from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the court's Administrative Office has set the interest rate at 8.25 percent for judgments and decrees entered during the 2008 calendar year.