A federal judge this week said Lincoln firefighter Troy Hurd must choose between a new trial on damages or a $630,000 reduction in the amount the city must pay him for retaliation he faced after reporting discrimination against a female firefighter trainee born in Iraq.
Senior U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp said based on the evidence at Hurd’s trial in Omaha in February, it wasn’t shocking or plainly unjust that the jury awarded Hurd a substantial amount for past and future emotional distress.
In all, the jury awarded the fire captain $1,177,815.
“It is, however, shocking that the jury awarded $930,472.12 for future emotional distress, because the jury wasn’t presented with any evidence of extraordinary circumstances that would merit such a large amount,” she said.
Smith Camp said Hurd still works for the city and suffered no financial hardship.
At trial, Hurd said he always wanted to be a firefighter and now considers his career in Lincoln Fire & Rescue effectively over.
Over roughly seven years, he said he suffered from a list of problems, from anxiety and depression to insomnia and a loss of energy.
After trial, Assistant City Attorney Jocelyn Golden asked Smith Camp to throw out the verdict, in part because the amounts “were excessive and influenced by emotion and passion, not the evidence” and in part because of how jurors arrived at the amount.
She said a city paralegal talked to five jurors and learned that another of the jurors had created a spreadsheet at home and brought his computer in on the second day of deliberations to help them determine damages for future emotional distress.
Golden said before the spreadsheet, one juror thought $100,000 was a proper amount. They eventually arrived at nine times that.
But Smith Camp didn’t find traction there and denied Golden’s motion for a new trial on emotional damages or to question jurors under oath to find out if they’d used an outside source, like a mathematic formula or Internet source, which isn’t allowed.
The judge said while she didn’t condone the juror’s decision to create a spreadsheet at home to use in the deliberation room, she also didn’t find that the city was prejudiced by it.
“Rather, it appears from the city’s affidavit that the spreadsheet was used as a tool to organize the trial evidence and perform mathematic calculations,” Smith Camp wrote in an order Thursday.
Hurd’s attorney, Kelly Brandon, had asked Smith Camp to promote Hurd to battalion chief or provide him front pay at the rate of an EMS supervisor position for 10 years.
The judge didn’t bite there, either.
Smith Camp said although the jury awarded Hurd lost wages associated with the city failing to appoint him to a backup EMS supervisor position, it was unclear whether the jury had found he was the most qualified candidate for a permanent position and wrongfully denied it.
On Friday, Brandon said Hurd was pleased that the court affirmed the liability portion and certain damage aspects of the jury’s verdict and dismissed the city’s assertion that the jurors committed misconduct during deliberations.
“He was disappointed with the court’s reduction of the future emotional distress award because of the substantial evidence introduced at trial regarding damages and the continued effects of the city’s retaliation on his daily life,” she said.
She said Hurd is weighing his options.