Louisiana Supreme Court Affirms Finding of Age Discrimination, Reduces Damages

Plaintiff James Robinson was a campus police officer for the University of Louisiana system beginning in 1971. Plaintiff received various promotions throughout his career, reaching the rank of Major. Beginning in 1999, Plaintiff was solely responsible for the contents of the evidence room within the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Police Department (“ULLPD”). In December 2010, the police department precinct was to undergo renovations. The police chief requested that Plaintiff conduct a full inventory of the evidence room prior to any evidence being transferred. Once the evidence had been inventoried and relocated, responsibility for the evidence room was to be transferred to a younger, lower-ranking police officer. Subsequently, the evidence was relocated, but Plaintiff did not complete the inventory as requested. As a result, Plaintiff received a letter of discipline with a suspension recommended due to insubordination. Plaintiff also became the subject of an internal affairs investigation regarding missing evidence. Rather than accepting the suspension and rather than cooperating with internal affairs, Plaintiff voluntarily retired. Due to Plaintiff’s retirement, all disciplinary action was halted.

Plaintiff filed a cause of action under the federal age discrimination act and the Louisiana age discrimination act. At trial, the jury awarded damages totaling $367,918.00. In addition, Plaintiff was awarded attorney’s fees and court costs. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s finding of discrimination and affirmed the jury’s rejection of the ULLPD’s proffered, non-discriminatory basis for its actions.

On appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the Court held that the jury’s finding of discrimination was not manifestly erroneous. However, the Court found that the amount of damages awarded was unsupported by the record. According to the evidence presented, Plaintiff retired at a salary of $69,000.00 per year and would have only worked a maximum of three additional years. Thus, the court affirmed the judgment, but reduced the damages to $207,000.00 ($69,000.00 annual salary x 3 years).

Robinson v. Board of University of Louisiana Systems and Joey Strum

Daniel P. Sullivan