Law School Case Brief
Tullis v. Townley Eng'g & Mfg. Co. - 243 F.3d 1058 (7th Cir. 2001)
An award for nonpecuniary loss in the context of a retaliatory discharge claim can be supported, in certain circumstances, solely by a plaintiff's testimony about his or her emotional distress. It is within the jury's province to evaluate the credibility of witnesses who testify to emotional distress, and the appellate court shall not disturb those credibility determinations on appeal.
A jury had rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiff-appellee William G. Tullis and awarded damages on Tullis’ retaliatory discharge claim under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act against defendant-appellee employer, Townley Engineering & Manufacturing Co., Inc. (“Townley”). Townley sought a new trial with regard to Tullis’ retaliation claim and the nonpecuniary damages awarded by the jury. The trial court denied Townley's motion for a new trial. Townley challenged the judgment.
In plaintiff employee Tullis' action for retaliatory discharge, did the trial court err in denying defendant employer Townley a new trial on the award of nonpecuniary damages for mental anguish and inconvenience?
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the record included evidence that the jury could have relied upon to determine that Townley discharged Tullis in retaliation for his workers' compensation claim. The Court concluded there was a reasonable basis in the record to support the jury's verdict given the conflicting evidence regarding Townley's termination policy, the evidence that Townley knew of and had discussed Tullis’ compensation benefit claim in the course of discussing his termination, and the evidence that Townley refused to rehire Tullis on the basis of that claim. The trial court did not err in denying a new trial on the nonpecuniary damages award for mental anguish and inconvenience because the award was supported by Tullis’ testimony, was based on the jury's assessment of Tullis’ credibility, and was not out of line with awards in similar cases. The Court reviewed the trial court's refusal to grant a new trial on the basis that the damages the jury awarded were excessive for an abuse of discretion. The Court affirmed the decision not to grant a new trial on the retaliatory discharge claim and its decision not to grant a new trial or remittitur for compensatory damage award.
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