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Perez v. Lloyd Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 8, 2019

THOMAS E. PEREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
LLOYD INDUSTRIES, INC., ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GOLDBERG, J.

         Following a five-day trial, a jury determined that Defendants, Lloyd Industries, Inc. (“Lloyd Industries”) and Mr. William Lloyd, wrongfully terminated two employees, Mr. Matthew Spillane and Mr. Santos Sanna, due to their involvement in assisting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) in an investigation into safety hazards at Lloyd Industries. The jury found that these terminations were retaliatorily, in violation of § 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health (“OSH”) Act, 29 U.S.C. § 660.

         On May 29, 2019, I presided over a bench trial on the issue of damages pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 660(c)(2). Based on the evidence presented at that trial and my review of the evidence presented to the jury, I find that Mr. Spillane is entitled back pay in the amount of $117, 710. I further find that Mr. Sanna is entitled to back pay in the amount of $373, 568, and front pay in the amount of $56, 121. Finally, Defendants shall pay punitive damages of $100, 000 to Mr. Spillane and $400, 000 to Mr. Sanna.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         A. Pertinent Procedural Background

         1. Prior to trial, I considered several motions in limine and determined that, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 660(c)(2), the trial would be bifurcated into two phases: (a) the liability phase decided by a jury, and (b) the damages phase decided the Court. (Order, Mar. 29, 2019, ECF No. 69.)

         2. The liability phase of the trial began on March 27, 2019, lasting five days and concluding on April 2, 2019.

         3. During the trial, the following timeline was established: Mr. Sanna began working for Defendants on July 28, 2008. (Am. Trial Tr., 201:6-15, Mar. 28, 2019, ECF No. 96.) Mr. Spillane began working for Defendants on May 7, 2014. (Id. 117:9-12.) Mr. Joshua Elbode, who is not a party to this lawsuit, sustained an injury while working for Defendants in July of 2014. (Id. 91:6-16.) In October of 2014, Mr. Elbode filed a complaint with OSHA. (Am. Trial Tr. vol. 2, 77:25-78:18, Mar. 27, 2019, ECF No. 95.) OSHA inspected Defendants' plant on November 13, 2014. (Am. Trial Tr., 105:20-24, Mar. 28, 2019, ECF No. 96.) Mr. Spillane was terminated on November 18, 2014. (Id. 105:15-19.) Mr. Sanna provided testimony to OSHA in February of 2015. (Am. Trial Tr., 42:20-43:15, Mar. 29, 2019, ECF No. 97.) OSHA issued citations against Defendants in the amount of $822, 000 on May 11, 2015. (Id. 103:13-16.) Mr. Sanna was terminated on that same day. (Id. 103:19-25.)

         4. On April 2, 2019, the jury returned a verdict as to Mr. Spillane, finding that “the Secretary[1] prove[d] by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendants, Lloyd Industries Inc. (“Lloyd Industries”) and Mr. William Lloyd, terminated Mr. Spillane in November 2014 because he engaged in a ‘protected activity.'” (Verdict Sheet, Apr. 2, 2019, ECF No. 75.) The jury also returned a verdict as to Mr. Sanna, finding that “the Secretary prove[d] by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Sanna's engagement in a ‘protected activity' was a substantial reason for his termination in May 2015.” (Id.)

         5. On May 29, 2019, I presided over a bench trial on the remaining issue of damages. I summarize the evidence presented below.

         B. Evidence Relating to Mr. Spillane

         6. I find that the following facts have been credibly established as they relate to Mr. Spillane.

         7. Matthew Spillane was born on January 21, 1985 and is thirty-four years old. (Am. Trial Tr., 6:7-12, May 30, 2019, ECF No. 105.) Mr. Spillane is married with four children and has a General Education Diploma. (Id. 6:13-7:3.)

         8. At the time he was fired, Mr. Spillane was earning $12.45 per hour. (Id. 9:12-18.) Mr. Spillane earned a total of $18, 635 during his employment with Defendants and his annualized earnings were $35, 123. (Id. 9:15-10:1.) Spillane was able to work almost every weekend and earn overtime, which helped him support his family. (Id. 12:16-13:3.)

         9. Mr. Spillane was happy with his job at Lloyd Industries because he liked the people he worked with, the clear work duties, and the variety of tasks. (Id. 10:4-17.) He was not “actively looking for other jobs” while working for Defendants. (Id. 13:4- 6.) Mr. Spillane turned down a job offer to earn more money while he was working for Defendants because he was content working at Lloyd Industries. (Id. 13:7-14:7.)

         10. Mr. Spillane had filled out the paperwork for health insurance benefits offered through Defendants right before he was terminated as he had to work for six months before he was eligible for such benefits. (Id. 10:18-11:23.)

         11. Initially, Mr. Spillane lived forty-five minutes away from Defendants' plant, but he decided to move closer to the plant (i.e., eight or nine minutes away) while he was still employed. (Id. 11:24-12:15.)

         12. Mr. Spillane's termination resulted in the loss of his house, his reliance on his savings and selling of personal property, and the need to move in with his mother-in-law. (Id. 15:6-17.)

         13. Mr. Spillane asked Mr. Lloyd for his job back in late November of 2014, which Mr. Lloyd denied. Mr. Spillane would have taken his job back at any time as long as he was treated fairly. (Id. 14:8-24.)

         14. Mr. Spillane's job-search efforts in 2015 after his termination included creating profiles on job-search websites (i.e., Indeed, Career Builders, and Monster.com) and applying for 75-100 jobs through email messages, job-search websites, and staffing agencies, including Aerotek, McCallion, and EverStaff. (Id. 21:7-22:22.) His search criteria included (a) production, warehousing, and restoration jobs; (b) within a one-hour radius; and (c) a minimum salary of $10 per hour. (Id. 23:19-24:8.) His efforts in 2015 yielded a job offer with a restoration company that he had previously worked for in Philadelphia. (Id. 13:11-12.) However, he declined the offer because it would have required him to relocate to Brooklyn, New York, which was financially unfeasible for his family. (Id. 59:17-61:12.) He also interviewed with two staffing agencies, McCallion and Aerotek, but received no job offers due to his criminal background. (Id. 22:23-23:18.) He received no other job offers or interviews from these efforts. (Id. 22:13-14.)

         15. On January 10, 2016, Mr. Spillane began working a full-time job with Servpro, a restoration company. (Id. 24:19-27:1.) He began working as a laborer, earning $13 per hour and was promoted to crew chief within seven weeks of employment, earning $14 per hour. (Id.) Mr. Spillane worked an average of 65-70 hours per week, working as many as 100 hours per week on occasion. (Id.) On August 28, 2016, Mr. Spillane was injured while working for Servpro. (Id. 27:2-30:7.) Mr. Spillane worked consistently despite this injury, except for a short period in March of 2017, due to medically-necessary surgery and the corresponding recovery. (Id. 29:14-30:7.)

         16. Mr. Spillane worked for Servpro until he was terminated on July 11, 2017, resulting from a verbal altercation with the office manager. (Id. 30:11-12, 64:6-68:7.) Mr. Spillane explained the circumstances surrounding the termination: he testified that his office manager approached him angrily first thing on the morning of July 11, 2017 because four other people had called out of work and there was a “big job” opportunity that required staffing. (Am. Trial Tr., 30:24-31:9, 67:8-68:7, May 30, 2019, ECF No. 105.) When he was asked to take this job, Mr. Spillane told his office manager that he could not take it without having someone with experience assist him. (Id.) After Mr. Spillane was terminated, Servpro disputed the award of unemployment compensation benefits. Despite Servpro's objections, the referee awarded the benefits to Mr. Spillane, finding that his termination was not caused by his malfeasance. (Id. 30:10-17.) Mr. Spillane earned $43, 930 in 2016 and $22, 668 in 2017 from his employment with Servpro. (Id. 30:16-21.)

         17. Upon his termination in July of 2017, Mr. Spillane undertook job-search efforts similar to those taken in 2015, which included applying for jobs on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. (Id. 32:1-13.) He estimates that he applied to about fifty jobs between July and December of 2015. (Id. 32:9-11.)

         18. Between January and February of 2018, Mr. Spillane agreed to complete construction work for his friend, which lasted four-to-five weeks. However, he was never paid for this work, and the work eventually slowed down. (Id. 32:14-33:17, 69:19-70:4.)

         19. Subsequently, Mr. Spillane worked as an Uber driver for approximately two months, until he was prohibited to work due to his criminal background. (Id. 33:18-34:12.) He made approximately $3, 500 as an Uber driver. (Id. 33:22-24.)

         20. Mr. Spillane continued his job-search efforts throughout 2018 using Craigslist. He applied for jobs with Timberlane, Mancino Manufacturing Company, and Amazon. (Id. 34:13-39:7.)

         21. Mr. Spillane did not turn down any job that he was offered after Defendants' terminated him and has been “ready and willing” to accept employment. (Id. 39:8- 14.)

         22. Mr. Spillane explained that he has a chronic eye condition that existed before he began employment with Defendants (i.e., since 2007), and that this condition has not prevented him from performing any job at any time. On January 22, 2019, Mr. Spillane elected to have a surgery given the lack of employment opportunities. This surgery has resulted in him being unable to work until January of 2020. Mr. Spillane clarified that he would not have elected to have this surgery if he had been employed. (Id. 40:5-41:10; 73:1-23.)

         23. Between 2002 and 2014, Mr. Spillane held eight different jobs before he began his employment with Defendants. (Id. 56:7-59:9.)

         C. Evidence ...


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