A discrimination trial recently ended in a multimillion-dollar verdict, but it would launch multiple proceedings for criminal contempt.
On Sept. 25, a Colorado federal jury returned a $2.45 million verdict against SkyWest Airlines in favor of former employee John Hayes. Finding for Hayes on Family Medical Leave Act and Americans With Disabilities Act claims, the jury awarded Hayes $450,000 in actual damages and levied $2 million in punitive damages against the Utah-based airline company.
The path to the verdict, however, was marred by incidents. Judge Robert Blackburn found a paralegal on SkyWest’s defense team guilty of contempt for attempting to communicate with a witness who was on the stand. That same witness and a juror are also facing contempt proceedings over alleged communication held outside the courtroom in a trial that will have consequences for more than just the plaintiff and the defendant.
The verdict, including the punitive damages award, sends a message to employers about the seriousness of FMLA and ADA discrimination, said Paul Maxon, a Boulder-based solo attorney representing Hayes. “This kind of treatment of a long-term, hard-working, excellent employee at the most vulnerable moment of his life is beyond the pale,” Maxon said. Sarah Parady of Lowrey Parady and Amy Trenary of Appeal to Justice also represented Hayes.