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First Circuit rules in favor of former sky cap for a second time in long running retaliation case

This week, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict in a long running retaliation case involving the termination of a sky cap who worked at Logan Airport. The sky cap at issue in the case, Joseph Travers, was the named plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Flight Services & Systems, Inc. (“FSS”). That class action involved allegations that FSS did not pay sky caps all of the wages they were owed under federal and Massachusetts law. Travers alleged that FSS fired him in retaliation for his role in bringing the class action against FSS. This type of retaliation is unlawful under federal and Massachusetts law. Based on the evidence presented at trial, it appeared as though FSS fired Travers to send a message to other sky caps that if they joined the class action they, too, might get fired in retaliation.

We previously reported on this case because this is the second time the case has come before the First Circuit. The first time the case came before the First Circuit, the trial court had ruled in favor of FSS and dismissed Travers’ claim because the trial court did not believe a reasonable jury could find in favor of Travers. The First Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and, as a result, Travers was entitled to a jury trial. After the trial, the jury ruled in favor of Travers and awarded him $90,000 in back pay, $450,000 in front pay, and $400,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress—a total of $940,000.

Under Massachusetts law, Travers was entitled to three times his back pay and, thus, the trial court trebled the back pay award to $270,000. However, the trial court decided to reduce the compensatory damages award to $50,000 and to eliminate the front pay award. Thus, after the trial court reduced the jury’s verdict, the final damages verdict was $320,000. In addition to this $320,000, the trial court awarded Travers $176,185 to pay his attorneys’ fees.

The First Circuit upheld most of the trial court’s rulings in the case except (1) it ordered the trial court to award some amount of front pay and (2) it asked the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to decide whether Travers was entitled to interest on his back pay award.  Consequently, this long running case will continue as the trial court and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rule on these issues.