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Denver Colorado Jury Awards United Airlines Ramp Supervisor $3M in Damages for Airline's Retaliation to Her Discrimination Complaint

Jennifer McInerney, a former United Air Lines ramp supervisor, was awarded $3 million by a federal court jury in Colorado after finding that McInerney was retaliated against by United for making a discrimination complaint.
McInerney became pregnant in 2005. Anticipating that her pregnancy may have complications, she requested assignment to alternate positions, which requests were denied. Her son was born 11 weeks premature in November and she took all available family and medical leave, vacation leave and sick time. When her time off expired in March 2006, United refused to give her additional unpaid leave, although McInerney claimed that male ramp attendants were given unpaid time off. United ordered her to return to work in March 2006. When she didn’t return, United terminated her, claiming there was a shortage of ramp supervisors, and that when McInerney requested unpaid leave, the company couldn’t hold her job open any longer.
The jury found that although United did not discriminate against McInerney
because she was a woman when it refused her request for additional unpaid leave, but it did find that she was retaliated against for having made the discrimination complaint to the company in the first place.
Senior Federal District Judge Richard P. Matsch denied United’s post-trial motions, including a motion for reduction in the $3 million judgment amount. As to the latter motion, the judge said, “The defendant consistently refers to this case as a “garden-variety” emotional distress damages case. That characterization is a reflection of the same callous indifference to Ms. McInerney’s plight as was shown by Kevin Mortimer in refusing to consider the plaintiff’s repeated requests for accommodation.”
Colorado and other employers should look very carefully at their personnel decisions following an employee’s request for accommodation and discrimination complaints. Employer rules should prohibit any retaliatory action against the employee. Training of supervisors and making employees aware of recognizing possible retaliatory actions is a good starting place for preventing lawsuits similar to the McInerney case.

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