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Breazell v. Permian Trucking & Hot Shot, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

July 17, 2017

MICHAEL BREAZELL, Plaintiff,
v.
PERMIAN TRUCKING & HOT SHOT, LLC d/b/a WILBANKS ENERGY LOGISTICS, Defendant.

          ORDER

          XAVIER RODRIGUEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On this date, the Court considered evidence presented by Plaintiff Michael Breazell's at a July 6, 2017 hearing held for the purpose of determining the amount of damages to which he is entitled on his default judgment. After careful consideration, the Court awards Plaintiff damages in the amount of $274, 922.75.

         BACKGROUND

         The underlying background of this case is set forth in full detail in the Court's previous order granting Plaintiff's motion for default judgment. Docket no. 21. In short, Plaintiff alleged that he was employed as a truck driver by Defendant and was discriminated against on the basis of his race. Defendant failed to answer or otherwise appear and the Court granted Plaintiff default judgment on his Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims.[1] Because Plaintiff had not yet presented evidence of his damages, the Court set a hearing to provide him the opportunity to do so.

         At the hearing, Plaintiff, a lifelong truck driver who holds extensive licenses, explained that he was employed by Defendant from approximately April 2014 to January 2015. He detailed a series of discriminatory incidents at the workplace, most of which he reported to his superiors. In the early months of his employment with Defendant, Plaintiff, an African American, recalled two specific incidents in which he was called “the N word” by coworkers. Plaintiff testified that these incidents, which he reported to his superiors, affected his mental health.

         After these initial incidents, on May 29, 2014, Plaintiff was in a serious work-related accident. Plaintiff was sitting in his truck, which was legally parked, when another driver collided with him. Plaintiff went to help the other driver, who was gruesomely injured and died while Plaintiff was helping him.

         Plaintiff himself was injured in the accident and missed about a week of work. Defendant promised to take care of Plaintiff's medical needs privately (i.e., without Plaintiff filing a worker's compensation claim). Defendant pressured Plaintiff to return to work quickly, and ultimately never followed through on its promise to provide for his medical needs.

         After returning to work and in the remaining months of 2014, the discriminatory incidents continued. Plaintiff recalled at least three or four specific instances of being called “the N word, ” including one directed at him over the company radio. Plaintiff continued to report the incidents and eventually brought them to Human Resources. Plaintiff testified that the work environment deteriorated, becoming increasingly uncomfortable and unsatisfying. In addition, Plaintiff's truck, which he had “built up, ” was taken from him and given to another non-African American employee. Plaintiff's job assignments were reduced, and on several occasions he was called to jobs unnecessarily and given defective equipment. These incidents affected Plaintiff's mental health and his coworker's perception of him.

         Throughout the end of 2014, Defendant denied Plaintiff medical treatment for injuries arising from the truck accident and Plaintiff testified that these denials were due to his race. In December 2014, Plaintiff made a formal request for worker's compensation. In January 2015, Plaintiff, giving up on Defendant's assurances of providing medical care, used his Veterans Affairs benefits and secured other medical treatment, which revealed two fractures in his back. Also that month, Defendant told Plaintiff that if he came back to work, he would not be given any work. Plaintiff stopped working for Defendant in January 2015.

         Since January 2015, Plaintiff has been unable to work due to both his physical and mental conditions, which were worsened through the discriminatory incidents themselves along with Defendant's discriminatory failure to provide Plaintiff with medical care.

         DISCUSSION

         “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 ' U.S.C. 2000(e) et. seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in federal and private employment.” Fitzgerald v. Sec'y, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 121 F.3d 203, 206 (5thCir. 1997). Section 2000e-2(a)(1) makes it unlawful to “discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1).

         For an intentional violation of § 2000e-2, a court may “order such affirmative action as may be appropriate, which may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement or hiring of employees, with or without back pay . . ., or any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.” 42 U.S.C § 2000e-5(g)(1). When appropriate, courts award front pay, back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a (providing for compensatory and punitive damages); Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody, 422 U.S. 405, 417-18 (1975) (holding that back pay should rarely be denied); Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843, 850 (2001) (awarding front pay); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983) (awarding attorney's fees). Accordingly, this Court will analyze Plaintiff's evidence in light of the damages requested while being mindful that “[a] default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c).

         I. Back Pay

         a. Whether Plaintiff is Entitled to an Award of Back Pay

         As a threshold legal matter, the Court first concludes that Plaintiff is entitled to back pay. Once a plaintiff establishes that unlawful discrimination is the cause of his losses, he is entitled to back pay. Albemarle, 422 U.S. at 417-18. Back pay compensates the employee for what he would have earned absent the employers violation of Title VII. Palasota v. Haggar Clothing Co., 499 F.3d 474, 482 (5th Cir. 2007), order clarified (Sept. 27, 2007). Back pay liability “accrues from the date of the commencement of the discriminatory course of conduct causing financial loss until the date damages are ‘settled.'” Id. Back-pay damages can be calculated at the average rate of pay that the employee received prior to the unlawful conduct of the employer. Id. at 486 (affirming award of back-pay at rate received prior to unlawful demotion). Title VII precludes the recovery of back-pay damages suffered more than two years prior to the filing of a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)(1).

         Various factors may affect the determination of a back pay award. Palasota, 499 F.3d at 486. Most important for present purposes is a plaintiff's failure to mitigate damages-“[b]ack pay is tolled . . . for the period of time the plaintiff is employed in a comparable position, ” and a plaintiff must make a reasonable and good faith effort to find such employment. Id. at 486-87. If the plaintiff simply chooses not to seek comparable employment, he has failed to mitigate his damages, and his award of back pay must be reduced accordingly, but if the plaintiff's inability to find comparable employment is the result of the employer's discriminatory treatment, the plaintiff has not failed to mitigate and is eligible for back pay. Fogg v. Gonzales, 492 F.3d 447, 455 (D.C. Cir. 2007). Because the failure to mitigate is an affirmative defense, the burden ...


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