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Pennsylvania Superior Court affirms decision declining to award attorneys’ fees’ following jury’s finding that employer violated the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

July 1, 2017
Huyett v. Doug’s Family Pharm., 2017 Pa. Super. 115 (Pa. Super. Ct. Apr. 20, 2017)

A jury awarded the plaintiff more than $20,000 in damages in connection with her claim that her former employer terminated her from a pharmacy technician position after it learned that she had been diagnosed with cancer, in violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Following trial, plaintiff’s counsel filed a fee petition, requesting more than $106,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. The trial court, however, denied the petition, concluding that the evidence presented by the plaintiff at trial was “[‘w]eak’ and did not support a finding of a violation [of the PHRA].” On appeal, the plaintiff argued that “[t]he trial court was bound by the fact finder’s finding of discrimination, and that it lacked discretion to weigh the evidence and make its own independent determination of whether the PHRA was violated,” essentially asserting that “[a]ttorney fees are mandated or presumptively warranted when the plaintiff prevails.” The Superior Court, however, expressly disagreed with this assertion, noting that the language from the PHRA states, “The trial court may award attorney fees: where the plaintiff prevails and the trial court determines there has been a violation [of the statute]” (emphasis in original). In so finding, the court expressly noted that the issue was not whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain a jury verdict, “[b]ut whether the trial court, after engaging in its own, permissible weighing of the evidence, concluded the defendant engaged in a discriminatory practice in violation of the PHRA for purposes of awarding attorney fees.” 

 

Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2017

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