Punitive Damages

One and a half years ago, DelShawn Crawford Sr. was shot and killed by Minneapolis police officers in his girlfriend’s home.  On behalf of Crawford’s estate, Madia Law has filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against two Minneapolis police officers, Laura Turner and Chad Meyer.  What follows is a summary of the allegations against the police officers in the Complaint filed on September 19 in United States District Court.

KMSP-TV

On May 12, 2012, Delshawn Crawford was spending a “family night” with his girlfriend Brandy Lewis, her children, her children’s friends, and cousins of Ms. Lewis.  At approximately 1:30 AM, following the family gathering, there were still seven individuals in Ms. Lewis’ home.  Mr. Crawford and Ms. Lewis engaged in a verbal argument; Ms. Lewis continued to clean the home while they were arguing. [click to continue…]

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Early last month, a federal jury in the Southern District of Iowa awarded a $240 million verdict to 32 mentally disabled men that suffered through years of slave-like employment in a turkey slaughterhouse operated by Henry’s Turkey Service, also known as Hill Country Farms.  Hill Country, a Texas based company, operated the slaughterhouse in Iowa and had been employing mentally disabled men for over four decades.  Hill Country offered room and board in an old schoolhouse without central heat.  Room and board was part of the employment benefits and calculated as earnings on top of the $2 per day salary.  Supervisors that cared for the employees doled out verbal abuse, occasional physical abuse, and manual labor as punishment.  The civil trial uncovered one such instance when an employee was handcuffed to his bed and left screaming and crying.[1]

Minnesota Wrongful Termination Attorneys

The $240 million verdict was awarded after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission proved harassment and discrimination violations of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The award granted each of the 32 men about $5.5 million in compensatory damages, plus $2 million as punitive damages because Hill Country acted with malice or reckless indifference.  Unfortunately, Hill Country “is believed to have no more than $4 million in assets, and… damages awarded by the jury go ‘well beyond’ what is allowed by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.”[2]  The EEOC attorney, Robert Canino, said, “I can tell you the EEOC is going to explore every option, and with great diligence, to ascertain every possible source of revenue… to satisfy the judgment.”[3]  Hill Country is also liable for over $4 million in fines for violating federal, and state, labor and wage laws.

And so, the mentally disabled ex-employees of Hill Country savored sweet justice for all of about two weeks.  [click to continue…]

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On September 26, 2009, Deshun Carter was barbequing in front of his house with his mother, father, and wife.  Two officers arrived and told him to turn down the music coming from his vehicle.  Carter immediately complied and told the officers that he was sorry for the music and wasting their time.  He identified himself as the owner of the house and the vehicle, and gave the officers his identification.  When an officer turned to run warrant checks, Carter stepped back toward his grill because his meat was burning.  The officer became irate and shouted, “Where the fu** do you think you’re going – I’m not done with you yet.”

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Sanders v. Lee County School District, No. 10-3240 (8th Cir. 2012).  An Arkansas jury found in favor of plaintiff Sharon Sanders on her Title VII claims of race discrimination and constructive discharge.  The jury awarded $10,000 in compensatory damages for race discrimination, $60,825 in back and front pay damages for her constructive discharge, and $8,000 in punitive damages.  After the verdict, the district court judge granted the School District’s motion under Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to set aside the jury’s verdicts on constructive discharge and punitive damages.  Sanders appealed the district court’s vacation of the jury’s verdicts to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals – the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and reinstated the jury’s findings.

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In Connick v. Thompson, the Supreme Court reversed both the federal district court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to hold that a District Attorney could not be held liable for failure to train his prosecutors regarding their obligation to turn over exonerating evidence to defense attorneys.  In a 5 to 4 decision divided on ideological lines, the Court held that, in order to recover damages for civil rights violations by prosecutors, plaintiffs must demonstrate a “pattern of violations” similar to the violations that are the subject of their case.  This holding will make it much more difficult for victims to be compensated for wrongs committed against them by municipalities.

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