By Vance Knapp
What does it take to convince a court that a plaintiff should not collect front pay as well as back pay? Here’s one way – a substantial reduction in force for the workplace, combined with the plaintiff’s inexperience in the job. In Dollar v Smithway Motor Xpress, Inc., No. 11-2093, (8th Cir. Mar. 27, 2013), the plaintiff won an FMLA claim at trial. At the end of her medical leave, the plaintiff was still unable to return to her job as a manager of truck drivers, but at trial, the employer’s rep. had testified that the plaintiff had been offered a transfer to a job as a driver recruiter. The plaintiff had never worked as a driver recruiter, but testified that she could perform that job. Consequently, the court ruled the employer had failed to reinstate her to an “equivalent position” at the end of her leave. The court awarded the plaintiff back pay, liquidated damages, and a whopping 10-years worth of front pay. The Eighth Circuit rejected the award of front pay as involving an “impermissible degree of speculation.” The defendant had been acquired by another company and had suffered a 75% reduction in force at the plaintiff’s former workplace. The front pay award was too speculative in light of the reduction in force and the fact that the plaintiff was untested and inexperienced as a driver recruiter.
There’s a reason to keep good documents about your reductions in force – they can be useful against people who don’t even work there anymore.