A federal appeals court on Monday acquitted a jury of a $6 million non-pecuniary damages verdict awarded to a former International Business Machines Corp. employee. in a wrongful termination and retaliation case, declaring it “shockingly excessive.”
Scott Kingston, an IBM executive, filed a lawsuit against the company in September 2019, alleging that he was fired after failing to cap sales commissions to his salespeople and trying to prevent IBM from discriminating against a Black IBM representative by not pay him a large commission. , when it previously authorized such payment to a white seller under the same circumstances, according to the complaint i Scott Kingston v. International Business Machines Corp., a New York Corporationwhich was filed in US District Court in Seattle.
A jury awarded Mr. Kingston about $5 million in economic and $6 million in non-economic damages, according to the ruling by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The appeals court partially affirmed the lower court, with a jury finding from the evidence that Mr. Kingston had objected to the employer̵7;s misconduct and that his opposition activity was known to decision-makers and a “substantial factor” in its decision to fire him.
But on the non-pecuniary damages, it said: “While we do not dispute that Kingston suffered mental anguish as a result of his dismissal, his distress does not appear to have been materially greater than what someone might suffer from being dismissed.”
The $6 million also “far exceeds the amounts that Washington courts have established in similar cases,” it said, in instructing the district court to reduce the non-pecuniary damages “to an amount supported by the record and consistent with Washington law.”
A dissenting opinion did not directly address the $6 million award, but said there is no evidence that the decision makers who fired Mr. Kingston knew that he “opposed racism and improper content of wages.”
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.