Tag Archives: THRA

Tennessee Employment Law Just Became More Employer Friendly

On July 1st several changes to Tennessee employment law will take effect which are employer friendly.  The changes are to the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”) the Tennessee Public Protection Act or whistleblower statute (“TPPA”) and the Tennessee Disability Act (“TDA”).

First, under the new law a cap now exists on the amount of compensatory damages that can be awarded under the THRA the TPPA, and the TDA for future monetary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-monetary losses.  The caps depend on the size of the employer and are as follows:

$25,000 for employers who have between 8 and 14 employees.
$50,000 for employers who have between 15 and 100 employees.
$100,000 for employers who have between 101 and 200 employees.
$200,000 for employers who have between 201 and 500 employees and
$300,000 for employers who have more than 500 employees.

These caps do not apply to back pay, interest on back pay, front pay or any equitable relief.

Second, the new law eliminates individual liability under the THRA.  Previously individuals could be liable under the THRA under certain circumstances.  Now, no individual employee or agent of an employer can be liable for an employer’s violations of the THRA.

Finally, the new law eliminates the common law cause of action for retaliatory discharge.  As a result, the TPPA will be the only source of Tennessee law available for retaliatory discharge claims that are not based on a violation of the THRA or the TDA.  This is a significant win for employers because under the TPPA the employee must prove that his or her protected activity was the “sole reason” for the termination.  The common law claim only requires the employee to prove that the protected activity was a “substantial factor” in the termination, which is an easier standard to meet.

Even though these changes are employer friendly employers should still continue to implement and enforce policies and practices that are designed to treat everyone equally and avoid discrimination and retaliation claims.

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Decision-maker’s Lack of Knowledge of Protected Activity Negates $3 Million Retaliation Verdict

In Ferguson v MTSU the Tennessee Court of Appeals negated a $3 Million jury verdict for the plaintiff in a retaliation case because the plaintiff failed to prove that the decision-maker who allegedly retaliated against him had knowledge of the protected activity when the decision  was made.  The plaintiff filed an EEOC Charge and  subsequently a lawsuit alleging race and national origin discrimination, and claimed the supervisor assigned him work outside of his restrictions in retaliation for those protected acts.  A second lawsuit was filed alleging retaliation, and the cases were consolidated for trial. At trial the jury returned a defense verdict on the discrimination claims but awarded the plaintiff $3 Million on his retaliation claims.

The Court of Appeals reversed the jury’s verdict and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.  The Court held that in a  retaliation case under Title VII and the THRA the plaintiff must prove that the person who decided to take the adverse action had knowledge of the protected activity at the time the adverse decision is made.  In so holding the Court of Appeals expressly rejected the argument that “general corporate knowledge” is sufficient to prove the causation element of a retaliation claim.

While this case is a significant victory for employers, (assuming it holds up on appeal) the result does not change the type of review that employers should undertake when any adverse action is proposed against an employee.  Review the proposal thoroughly to make sure the action is warranted, consistent with company policy and that the employee is being treated the same as all other similarly situated employees.  If the employee is known to have engaged in protected activity or is in a known protected class, make sure there is not a connection between the activity or class and the proposed action, and that everyone who has input in the decision is unbiased.

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