Update (March 2009)
1.19: USERRA Enforcement
By CAPT Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
In Law Review 0750 (Oct. 2007), I wrote about Patton v. Target Corp.,
2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20712 (D. Oregon March 21, 2007). Major James Patton, ARNG was fired by Target Corp. He sued, claiming that the firing was motivated by his National Guard service and that it violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). He also claimed that the firing constituted the tort of "wrongful discharge" under Oregon law. Under section 31.735 of Oregon Revised Statutes, 60% of punitive damages awards are to go to Oregon's Criminal Injuries Compensation Account.
After a four-day trial, the jury rendered a very favorable verdict for Major Patton, under USERRA and state law. The jury awarded him $84,000 in back pay under USERRA and $900,000 in punitive damages under state law. But a jury verdict does not get you paid--that takes a judgment, entered by the court, and the judgment must hold up on appeal. There have been some very interesting subsequent developments in this case.
It is possible that the $900,000 punitive damages award would not withstand appellate review, because the Supreme Court has held that the United States Constitution places an outer limit on the size of a punitive damages award in relation to the actual damages. See Philip Morris USA v. Williams,
549 U.S. 346 (2007). After the jury verdict, but before the entry of judgment in the District Court, Major Patton and Target Corp. agreed to a substantial reduction in the amount of the punitive damages, in exchange for immediate payment of the amount and the dropping of appeals. The amount of the reduction was not announced, and that amount is probably covered by a confidentiality agreement.
The State of Oregon intervened and objected to the entry of judgment upon the agreed terms, because the State wanted to collect its 60% share of the punitive damages. The District Court considered and rejected the State's objection. Patton v. Target Corp.,
2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9863 (D. Oregon Feb. 8, 2008). A LEXIS
® search on March 21, 2009 shows no further appellate history to the Patton
case, and it is probably final. The settlement between Major Patton and Target has probably been consummated, but the amount Target paid has not been disclosed.
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