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Eleventh Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict in Favor of Pregnant Employee and Rejects Expansion of After-Acquired Evidence Doctrine

On April 17, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit issued a published opinion affirming a jury verdict in favor of Lisa Holland, a former Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office employee who was terminated due to her pregnancy. The Court reinstated her full $80,000 back pay award bringing Holland’s total damages awarded by the jury to $90,000.  The Court affirmed the correct standard in a Title VII discrimination case (implicitly finding that the Florida Civil Rights Act contains a cause of action for pregnancy discrimination) and rejected the trial court’s application of the after-acquired evidence doctrine in vacating the award of back pay. Holland was represented by Kwall, Showers & Barack, P.A. at trial and on appeal.

The Sheriff’s Office argued on appeal that Holland did not establish her prima facie case. The Eleventh Circuit rejected this argument and noted that following a jury trial, “it is not now appropriate for us to look back to determine whether Ms. Holland in fact established” a prima facie case. Instead,

“the question becomes whether the evidence,” when viewed as a whole, “yields the reasonable inference that the employer engaged in the alleged discrimination.” Smith v. Lockheed-Martin Corp., 644 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2011). Put another way, the issue is whether there is “a convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow a jury to infer intentional discrimination.” Id. at 1328 (quotation marks and footnote omitted).

The Court then went on to find that a jury could find that the Sheriff’s Office discriminated against Holland by transferring her to a less prestigious position, even without a change in her pay.

The Eleventh Circuit pointed out the evidence supporting pregnancy discrimination and discussed at length the various reasons for termination asserted by the Sheriff’s Office and why the jury could have found them to be pretextual, noting that the decision-maker at the Sheriff’s Office lacked credibility.

Third and finally, we note that the credibility of Chief Deputy Docobo, the ultimate decisionmaker, was heavily challenged at trial, well apart from the fact that there was evidence to rebut his proffered reasons for terminating Ms. Holland.

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the District Court’s decision to strike the $80,000 in back pay awarded by the jury.

In vacating the award of back pay, the District Court cited our decision in Crapp v. City of Miami Beach, 242 F.3d 1017 (11th Cir. 2001). The District Court focused on our statement that “the City could have fired [the plaintiff] for a lawful reason—lack of certification—on the same day that it fired him for a discriminatory reason.” Id. at 1021. The District Court read that sentence to mean that the after-acquired evidence doctrine applies so long as the employer demonstrates that it could have terminated the employee for any lawful reason. We agree with both parties that the District Court misconstrued that sentence.

You can read the entire published decision here.

If you feel you have been subject to unlawful discrimination in the workplace, please contact our office to speak with an attorney.

Kwall Showers and Barack provides these services in the following areas:

Pinellas County, Florida: Belleair, Clearwater, Clearwater Beach, Dunedin, East Lake, Fort De Soto, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Largo, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Pasadena, Pinellas Park, Safety Harbor, Saint Pete Beach, Saint Petersburg, Seminole, Tarpon Springs, Treasure Island; Hillsborough County, Florida: Brandon, Plant City, Tampa, Temple Terrace, Ybor City; Pasco County, Florida: Crystal Springs, Dade City, Holiday, Hudson, Land O' Lakes, New Port Richey, Trinity, Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills; Manatee County, Florida: Bradenton, Ellenton, Lakewood Ranch, Longboat Key, Manatee, Palmetto; Sarasota County, Florida: Englewood, North Port, Sarasota, Venice, Venice Beach.