Monday, February 9, 2009

Court may award damages to offset tax effects of back pay award

The Third Circuit Court of appeals has held that the trial court may add an amount to a jury verdict which will adequately compensate the prevailing plaintiff for the tax consequences of the verdict.

Joan Eshelman sued Agere Systems claiming discrimination on the basis of age and disability, and the matter was tried before Magistrate Timothy Rice. The jury awarded $170,000 in back pay and $30,000 in compensatory damages, and following trial the Plaintiff moved the Court for an award of money damages to offset the effects of taxation on the lump sum payment. Judge Rice granted the motion, and the Defendant appealed.

In affirming, Judge Chagares wrote:

We hold that a district court may, pursuant to its broad equitable powers granted by the ADA, award a prevailing employee an additional sum of money to compensate for the increased tax burden a back pay award may create.

This decision follows the 10th Circuit's holding in Sears v. Atchison, Topeka & Stanta Fe Ry. Co., 749 F.2d 1451 (10th Circuit 1984) and rejects a later decision from the D.C. Circuit, creating a clear split in the circuit courts of appeals on the issue. It remains to be seen whether the issue will reach the Supreme Court as it is unlikely the Eshelman case will be appealed further.

The decision is reported at: Eshelman v. Agere Systems, Inc., (No. 05-4895 January 30, 2009).


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