Court Upholds Jury’s Verdict In Favor Of Deputy Sheriff

Norman Sallitt was a deputy sheriff for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Sallitt sued the County, alleging that the Sheriff and his chief deputy retaliated against him for supporting the Sheriff’s political opponent in an election. As part of the retaliation, Sallitt asserted that he was suspended from his position for nine months, and lost opportunities to obtain higher-paying employment with the Pennsylvania State Police and the United States Marshal’s Service.

Eventually, the County allowed Sallitt to return to work. Ultimately, however, the County terminated Sallitt, who responded by filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against the County.

A jury awarded Sallitt past economic damages of $25,000, future economic damages of $100,000, noneconomic damages of $100,000, and punitive damages of $155,000. The County filed a challenge to the jury’s verdict, focusing on what it believed to be the inadequacy of the evidence to support the punitive damage award.

A federal court rejected the County’s challenge to the jury’s verdict. The Court ruled that it was “satisfied that the evidence supports the award of punitive damages. The jury concluded that the Sheriff had deprived Sallitt of his due process rights in connection with the suspension of his employment between April 2004 and January 2005. The trial testimony revealed that the Sheriff refused to inform Sallitt of the reason for his suspension. Officials representing Sallitt’s labor union were also unable to determine the reason for the suspension.

“Another employee who the Sheriff suspended testified that the Sheriff never told him the reason for his suspension either, and only told him that if he ‘and the others were ever disloyal to him he would blow up their houses with their families inside.’ This evidence demonstrates malice or at least a reckless disregard for the rights of others on the part of the Sheriff.”

In addition to the jury’s verdict, the Court ordered the County to pay Sallitt $119,042 in attorney fees and litigation costs.

Sallitt v. Stankus, 2010 WL 2196447 (M.D. Pa. 2010).

This article appears in the October 2010 issue