Supreme Court affirms $259K decision against employer

CHARLESTON - A telecommunication company’s quest to appeal a jury verdict in favor of a former employee who successfully sued his former bosses for workers compensation discrimination was denied by the state Supreme Court.

In its Oct. 7 per curiam opinion, the high court found no reversible error in a Kanawha County Circuit Court decision denying JWCF’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, which awarded the plaintiff in the case, Steven Farruggia, more than $250,000 in back pay and damages.

Farruggia was a former cable installer for the company who suffered a compensable back injury in 2007 that required surgery. According to court documents, Farruggia returned to work about six months after his injury in a “strictly temporary light duty position.”

After a few more months at the “light duty” position, Farruggia testified at his trial that he returned to his regular duties as a cable installer.

Around that same time in November 2007, Farruggia agreed to a settlement of $20,000 for his Workers’ Compensation claim. A few weeks later, he was fired.

In February the next year, he reapplied for his job but was not hired back. He filed a Workers’ Compensation discrimination lawsuit shortly after.

At trial, Farruggia testified that a supervisor told him he was fired specifically because of his Workers’ Compensation settlement.

Several colleagues gave testimony corroborating Farruggia’s assertion. The jury found in favor of Farruggia, awarding him $64,691 in back pay; $150,000 in front pay; $15,000 for aggravation, inconvenience, humiliation, embarrassment, and loss of enjoyment of life; and $30,000 in punitive damages.

In September 2010, JWCF moved for a new trial contending the jury verdict was contrary to the law, that Farruggia failed to timely disclose that he took a new job with Walmart prior to the trial, that evidence was improperly excluded, that the jury should not have been instructed on the issue of punitive damages and that circuit court’s ruling served to mislead the jury.

The circuit court denied a new trial and JWCF filed an appeal shortly after.

In its decision, the high court found no reversible error in any of the circuit court’s rulings.

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