In a temporary employee’s discrimination claim, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District reversed a default judgment against a company awarding the plaintiff more than $500,000 in damages, but not the sanctions against the company.
In the case of plaintiff Marilyn Washington’s suit against Sioux Chief Manufacturing Co. over alleged retaliation by firing for reporting a coworker’s discrimination, the underlying trial court issued a default judgment against the company that sanctioned it for discovery violations.
Sioux Chief did not appear for the damages hearing, during which the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and awarded a damages award of more than $733,000.
Washington had claimed the statutory damages cap as an affirmative defense. Kevin A. Jones of Kansas City represents Washington. He did not respond to a call requesting comment.
Sioux Chief appealed the default judgment. David Lawrence Schenberg of Ogletree Deakins in St. Louis filed the reply brief on behalf of Sioux Chief and declined to comment on the case. Western District Judge Karen King Mitchell wrote the Dec. 20 opinion that partially affirmed the default judgment’s sanctions against Sioux Chief but overturned the damages amount.
The Western District determined that the lower court’s sanction lawfully barred the company from presenting evidence at the hearing, not from attending the hearing. While the company waived its right to object to the damages, the Western District determined that the trial court’s awarding of more than $500,000 in damages, the statutory limit for a company like Sioux Chief with more than 500 employees, was an error as the cap is not an affirmative defense.
“… based on the amount awarded, it appears that the trial court accepted the representation that the damage cap is an affirmative defense,” King Mitchell wrote. “The trial court’s acceptance, however, amounts to plain error.”
Judge Janet Sutton concurred.
The Western District remanded with instructions for the lower court to reduce the award by $175,000 “as it sees fit.”
Judge Alok Ahuja dissented, stating he would have reversed and remanded every part of the ruling.
The case is Washington v. Sioux Chief Manufacturing Co., WD84714 and WD84749.