TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – A New Jersey appeals court has disagreed with a trial court that reduced the amount of back pay awarded to a plaintiff in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
A flight instructor who filed a disability discrimination and retaliatory discharge claim against his employer, Flightsafety International Inc., was awarded back pay of $83,000 by a New Jersey jury, but the presiding judge reduced that figure by $14,000.
Rex Fornaro was employed as a flight instructor at Flightsafety International Inc. The jury found that Flightsafety International fired Fornaro due to his disability and as a reprisal for seeking accommodation for his disability.
Fornaro was awarded back pay of $83,000. It awarded nothing for pain and suffering and rejected Fornaro’s claim that he was “emotionally devastated by the loss of his job.” The judge reduced this amount by about $14,000, representing 50 percent of the unemployment compensation plaintiff had received.
The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division ruled for Fornaro on March 6. His trial attorneys were awarded $275,000 in fees and costs and $104,000 in fees and costs were awarded to Fornaro’s attorneys who represented him prior to trial.
Flightsafety International Inc. appealed the decision, claiming that Fornaro should not be awarded back pay because he found a job as a flight instructor with another company and was only unemployed for 11 months.
Flightsafety International Inc. argued that the judge should have offset the back pay award by the total amount of Fornaro’s unemployment compensation and the verdict was against the weight of the evidence. They also argued that Fornaro’s prior lawsuits should have been used as evidence.
Their appeal was denied, however, on the basis that, "A rule precluding deduction of unemployment benefits from a back pay award would further the two key objectives of Title VII's back pay provision, . . . to end employment discrimination and secondarily to compensate injured victims in a make whole fashion."