Ryther v. KARE 11, Civ. No. 4-91-943.

Citation864 F. Supp. 1525
Decision Date03 October 1994
Docket NumberCiv. No. 4-91-943.
PartiesC. Thomas RYTHER, Plaintiff, v. KARE 11, an NBC affiliate and a division of Combined Communications Corp., an Arizona corporation and Gannett Co., Inc., a Delaware corporation, Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota



Donna L. Roback, James K. Martin, and Larkin, Hoffman, Daly & Lindgren, Bloomington, MN, for plaintiff.

Thomas Tinkham, Karen Clauson Maki, and Dorsey & Whitney, Minneapolis, MN, for defendants.


DOTY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on C. Thomas Ryther's ("Ryther") motion for further relief under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-34 (ADEA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minn.Stat. § 363.03, et. seq. (MHRA). The background of this case is set forth in the court's order dated September 13, 1994, and need not be repeated here.

An eight day jury trial was held in September 1993. At the close of Ryther's case, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law on all claims. The motion was granted as to Ryther's defamation claim but was otherwise denied. The remaining federal claims were submitted to the jury at the close of evidence. On September 24, 1993, the jury returned a verdict for Ryther on his age discrimination claim and awarded $272,444.00 in back pay and $433,330.30 in front pay. The jury also found that defendants' violation of the ADEA was willful. The jury found in favor of defendants on the retaliation claim.

Ryther now asks the court to enter judgment on his claim of age discrimination under the ADEA based on the jury's verdict. Ryther also moves for entry of an award equal to $272,444.00 as liquidated damages based on the jury's finding of willfulness. With respect to his claims under the MHRA, Ryther moves for judgment in his favor on his claim of age discrimination and asks the court to award double or treble damages. He also requests $25,000 as damages for mental anguish and suffering and $8,500 as punitive damages. Finally, Ryther seeks to recover prejudgment interest as well as costs and attorneys' fees.

1. Liquidated Damages Under the ADEA

Under the ADEA a successful plaintiff is entitled to liquidated damages if the violation was willful. 29 U.S.C. § 626(b), incorporating by reference, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). The statute refers to liquidated damages as an additional amount equal to the "amounts owing to a person as a result of a violation." 29 U.S.C. § 626(b). Thus, the award of liquidated damages in an ADEA case is a doubling of the back pay award. The award of liquidated damages is not discretionary where a jury has made a finding of a "willful" violation. Lee v. Rapid City Area School Dist., 981 F.2d 316, 333 (8th Cir.1992). The court has already held that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to reasonably find that defendants' violation of the ADEA was "willful." Accordingly, the court awards Ryther liquidated damages totalling $272,444.00.

2. Ryther's Claims Under the MHRA

Prior to submitting the case to the jury, the court granted Ryther's motion for an advisory jury on the MHRA claims of age discrimination and reprisal. The court indicated that its rulings on the MHRA claims would conform with the jury's findings of liability on the parallel ADEA claims. Accordingly, the court adopts the finding of the jury that defendants discriminated against Ryther because of his age and concludes that defendants' conduct violated the MHRA. The court also adopts the jury's finding that defendants did not retaliate against Ryther for filing an age discrimination charge and holds in favor of defendants on the state law reprisal claim.

Ryther asks the court to award treble damages, punitive damages and damages for mental anguish. The MHRA permits an award of compensatory damages "in an amount up to three times the actual damages sustained." Minn.Stat. § 363.071, subd. 2. It also allows damages for mental anguish or suffering and up to $8,500 in punitive damages. Id.; Minn.Stat. § 549.191. Such damage awards are not required, however, and the court has discretion to determine whether additional damages should be awarded. LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Ctr., 465 N.W.2d 585, 591 (Minn.Ct.App.1991).

Ryther asks the court to exercise its discretion and double or treble the compensatory award. The primary consideration is whether the damages awarded by the jury fully compensate Ryther and restore him to the same position he would have attained had there been no discrimination. The court finds no support in the record for doubling or trebling the actual damages. The compensation awarded by the jury, along with the liquidated damages provided for by the ADEA, fully compensate Ryther consistent with the policies of the MHRA. Accordingly, the court declines to award Ryther additional compensatory damages.

Ryther seeks an award of $8,500 in punitive damages. Punitive damages are allowed where it is established by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with deliberate disregard for the rights of the plaintiff. Minn.Stat. §§ 549.19, 549.20. The court finds that the evidence concerning defendants' conduct does not meet the higher standard of proof. Accordingly, the court denies Ryther's request for punitive damages.

Ryther also seeks $25,000 as damages for mental anguish and suffering caused by defendants' violation of the MHRA. Unlike a common law action for emotional distress, to be recoverable under the MHRA the pain and suffering need not be severe or accompanied by physical injury. Bradley v. Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., 471 N.W.2d 670, 677 (Minn.Ct.App.1991). Because Ryther offered no expert testimony or medical evidence, defendants contend that an award of damages for mental anguish and suffering is not supported by the record. Such evidence is not mandatory, however, and an award may be based on subjective testimony. Id.

At trial, Ryther testified that he felt demeaned by defendants during the term of his last contract and was belittled by the stripping away of his duties. Ryther felt emotional pain when Mason said his contract would not be renewed and that he had failed in the Twin Cities. Ryther also experienced pain and humiliation when he was removed from the air and escorted from the station. Ryther testified that due to defendants' conduct he lost self-esteem and began to doubt himself. Ryther also believed that the stress he felt lowered his resistance to illness resulting in frequent colds and other viruses. While Ryther may have suffered some minor mental anguish due to defendants' discrimination, the court finds that Ryther has been fully compensated consistent with the policies of the MHRA. Accordingly, the court declines to award additional damages based on mental suffering.

3. Prejudgment Interest

Ryther seeks prejudgment interest on the jury's award of back pay. Ryther asserts that prejudgment interest is appropriate as he was deprived not only of salary but of the use of that salary. He contends that liquidated damages under the ADEA do not compensate him for being denied the use of money which was legally due. Defendants respond that liquidated damages under the ADEA are both punitive and compensatory in nature and, therefore, that an award of liquidated damages precludes recovery of prejudgment interest.

The ADEA does not explicitly provide for the award of prejudgment interest. Section 7(b) of the ADEA provides that the rights created by the Act are to be "enforced in accordance with the powers, remedies, and procedures of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)." See 29 U.S.C. § 626(b). The statute also allows the court to grant "such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of the ADEA." Id. Thus, the award of prejudgment interest lies within the discretion of the court.

The remedial provisions of the FLSA and the ADEA, although similar, are not identical. The ADEA, unlike the FLSA, does not impose criminal penalties for willful violations. Moreover, while liquidated damages are mandatory under the FLSA, a prevailing ADEA plaintiff can recover liquidated or double damages "only in cases of willful violations." Id. Liquidated damages provided by the FLSA are intended to compensate plaintiffs for a variety of harms, including loss due to delay. It is well settled that under the FLSA a plaintiff cannot recover both prejudgment interest, which serves to compensate, and liquidated damages. Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O'Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 65 S.Ct. 895, 89 L.Ed. 1296 (1945). The question facing the court today is whether a plaintiff may recover both liquidated damages and prejudgment interest under the ADEA.

Prior to the Supreme Court's decision in Trans World Airlines, Inc. v. Thurston, 469 U.S. 111, 105 S.Ct. 613, 83 L.Ed.2d 523 (1985), there was almost total unanimity among the circuits regarding the relationship between prejudgment interest and liquidated damages under the ADEA. The majority rule was that prejudgment interest was not recoverable under the ADEA where liquidated damages were awarded.1 Some courts, relying on the relationship between the ADEA and FLSA, regarded the Supreme Court's holding in Brooklyn Savings Bank as conclusive of the issue under the ADEA. Other courts reasoned "that Congress intended for liquidated damages under the ADEA to be compensatory in nature and to cover, among other things, loss due to delay—precisely what prejudgment interest protects against." Linn v. Andover Newton Theological School, Inc., 874 F.2d 1, 6 (1st Cir.1989). The Eighth Circuit adopted the latter reasoning, concluding that to allow recovery of both prejudgment interest and liquidated damages would constitute an impermissible double recovery. Gibson, 695 F.2d at 1102.

In Thurston, the Supreme Court focused on what constitutes a "willful" violation of the ADEA, the...

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