Can a Judge Change a Jury’s Decision?Pregnancy Discrimination, Retaliation
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
— William Shakespeare
A courtroom is a stage where both parties tell their stories to the audience: the jury or the judge. Lawsuits have dialogue, drama, characters, conflict, and, at the end, a resolution. The parties are the key players, and the judge is the director. (The attorneys would like to be directing, but that isn’t how it works.) If the story is well received, the judge or jury will give a positive review to one side and a negative one to the other. Sometimes the judge sees things differently than the jury and can change the end of the story that the jury chooses.
A judgment notwithstanding the verdict (or JNOV) is an order by a judge after a jury has returned its verdict. The judge can overturn the jury’s verdict if he or she feels it cannot reasonably be supported by the evidence or if it contradicts itself. This rarely happens. More common is a judge’s ruling that does not change the jury’s finding of liability but that reduces the amount of damages. That recently happened in a California pregnancy discrimination and retaliation case.
Eimear Noone was the plaintiff in the case. She was the former conductor for a promoter and producer of concerts (the defendant, Jason Michael Paul Productions, Inc.). Noone claimed that she was fired because she complained of pregnancy discrimination and it left her emotionally upset, wary of others, and depressed, according to a report from mynewsLA.
In the lawsuit, Noone asserted that she was fired in 2013 after complaining to the defendant’s founder, Jason Michael Paul, of mistreatment after she became pregnant for the second time while working for him as the conductor in the symphony production of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. The defendant said that Noone was fired because she had joined others to form a competing symphony.
The plaintiff starting working on the Zelda production in 2011. It featured visual effects from the video game along with an orchestra. Zelda is played in concert halls nationwide and in some international sites.
Noone, who also works as a composer, testified to the jury in July that the defendant’s treatment of her harmed her mental state, making it more difficult to come up with ideas, which is a crucial part of her livelihood and her ability to make money. She said she cannot work without worrying, which has hurt her confidence as a performer. In addition, during her second pregnancy, she asked that unscripted comments be shortened or that she be allowed to sit on a stool during while addressing audiences during performances. The defendant did not allow either accommodation in two shows in 2013, despite multiple requests. Noone also told Paul, “Please, let me do my job, it’s all I wanted to do my whole life.” She said she felt she was failing her son even before he was born. Noone further explained that her family was deep in debt because she lost her job. Although she was working, she was earning far less than what she made during Zelda. Noone attended therapy to treat her depression, which she described as “like looking at the world through black-tinted glasses.”
After a two-week trial, the jury found in Noone’s favor and awarded her $120,000 in punitive damages in addition to $647,000 in compensatory damages. The jury decided that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud, triggering the award of punitive damages, reported CBS Los Angeles.
Despite Noone’s testimony, in October, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Bowick overturned the jury’s decision on some of the compensatory damages. She decided that the $378,000 award to compensate Noone for past and future emotional distress was not the result of cool-headed deliberations but of passion or prejudice by the jury and was not supported by the evidence, according to mynewsLA. As a result, there will be a new trial so a new jury can consider emotional distress damages, unless the case settles.
Summing It Up
A judge can rule that a jury granted excessive compensatory damages if the verdict is grossly disproportionate to a reasonable limit of compensation warranted by the facts, so much so that it violates a sense of justice and raises a strong presumption that the jury’s decision is based on prejudice or passion rather than facts and serious judgment.
- The legal system gives juries wide leeway when making decisions, and judges and appellate courts are not eager to overturn a decision.
- But juries must operate within boundaries and make judgments based on the facts. A desire to punish a defendant will be allowed to go only so far.
- In this instance, the plaintiff and her attorneys may have done too good a job of stirring up passions and convincing them that the defendant wronged her.
- Another trial can be ordered just on the issue of damages—one where the judge hopes the jury is more levelheaded than in the first trial.
- Given the cost in resources, time, and energy, another damages trial can often result in a settlement by the parties. The defendant realizes that it has been held liable, and the plaintiff realizes that he or she will not get everything he or she wants. The two compromise and agree to settle the claim before absorbing more costs and exposing themselves to further risk.
Every lawsuit is like a play, and its ending must be believable to satisfy the critic/judge in the audience.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against by your employer, contact us so we can talk about what’s happening and about how you can protect your legal rights and interests.