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Arnold v. Pfizer, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Oregon

March 18, 2015

KIMBERLY ARNOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
PFIZER INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR JUDGMENT

John V. Acosta United States Magistrate Judge

On February 5, 2015, plaintiff Kimberly Arnold ("Arnold") filed a Motion for a Proposed Judgment (ECF No. 307), based upon the verdict rendered in her jury trial. Defendant Pfizer, Inc., ("Pfizer") has filed its response (ECF No. 315), and Arnold has filed her reply (ECF No. 317). For the reasons that follow, the court grants in part and denies in part Arnold's motion, and will enter judgment consistent with the rulings set forth below.

BACKGROUND

On June 13, 2014, the jury reached a verdict in Arnold's favor and against Pfizer on her claims of discrimination and retaliation based on her disability under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Oregon Rehabilitation Act, Oregon Revised Statutes ("ORS") 659A.100 et seq. The jury found in Arnold's favor on her claims for disability and retaliation, and for failure to provide reasonable accommodation under the ADA and state law. The jury awarded Arnold $2, 700, 660 in economic damages resulting from her termination, which it reduced by $2, 025, 495, because the jury found that Arnold continued to use sedating medication without informing Pfizer, violating Pfizer policy. This resulted in a net economic damages award of $675, 165. The jury also awarded Arnold $500, 000 in emotional distress damages.

In Arnold's Proposed Judgment, she seeks an award of prejudgment interest at Oregon's statutory rate of nine percent pursuant to ORS 82.101, rather than the current and substantially lower federal post-judgment interest rate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961. Arnold also seeks prejudgment interest at the Oregon rate on her emotional distress damages from the date of the jury verdict until the date judgment is entered.

Pfizer maintains that any award of prejudgment interest is within the court's discretion, and that it is not appropriate in this case. Additionally, Pfizer argues that if prejudgment interest is awarded, the rate should be calculated pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961.

The parties agree that post-judgment interest is set by federal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1961, and begins to accrue from the date a final appealable judgment is entered.

DISCUSSION

I. Entitlement to Prejudgment Interest

In the absence of controlling law, the court has considerable discretion in determining an award of prejudgment interest. W. Pac. Fisheries, Inc. v. SS President Grant, 730 F.2d 1280, 1288 (9th Cir. 1984). Prejudgment interest is an element of compensation, not a penalty, and has the primary purpose of making an aggrieved party whole. Dishman v. UNUMLife Ins. Co. of Am., 269 F.3d 974, 988 (9th Cir. 2001)(holding that the district court abused its discretion in awarding a 16 percent prejudgment interest rate on an ERISA award, double the rate of return on defendant's investment portfolio). '" [M]oney has a time value, and prejudgment interest is therefore necessary in the ordinary case to compensate a plaintiff fully[.]'" Hop} Tribe v. Navajo Tribe, 46 F.3d 908, 922 (9th Cir. 1995)(quoting Partington v. Broyhill Furniture Indus., 999 F.2d 269, 274 (7th Cir. 1993)). The court's award of prejudgment interest is within the court's discretion and is guided by the balancing of equities. Blankenship v. Liberty Life Assurance Co. of Boston, 486 F.3d 620, 627 (9th Cir. 2007); Wessel v. Buhler, 437 F.2d 279, 284 (9th Cir. 1971); Stone v. Bayer Corp. Long Term Disability Plan, No. 08-CV-356-BR, 2010 WL 2595675, *3 (D. Or. June 21, 2010).

Pfizer argues that Arnold should not be awarded prejudgment interest because it would result in a windfall for Arnold. Pfizer maintains that Arnold was awarded damages, as well as emotional distress damages, and that prejudgment interest would be an unfair economic benefit. Pfizer also maintains that awarding prejudgment interest would unfairly reward plaintiff for failing to disclose her continued use of sedating medication.

The court rejects Pfizer's contention that awarding prejudgment interest in this case represents a penalty to Pfizer, and not compensation for Arnold. The economic damages awarded by the jury likely represents Arnold's lost wages. (Declaration of Carl Post ("Post Dec.")(ECF No. 309), Ex. A, p. 6.) As the jury determined, Pfizer terminated Arnold's employment and did so wrongfully, depriving her of her pay from the date of her termination. From the date of Arnold's termination, Pfizer had use of the money it otherwise would have been paying to Arnold in salary. Arnold established at trial she engaged in reasonable efforts to find suitable alternative employment, but was unable to find work until August 9, 2013, thus making the consequences of her lost wages i especially harsh and burdensome. Lastly, Arnold testified that her new employment was on a straight commission basis. Awarding prejudgment interest in this case serves to fully compensate Arnold for her lost wages. See Loeffler v. Frank, 486 U.S. 549, 558-59 (1988)(in Title VII case, prejudgment interest authorized on award for backpay); Domingo v. New England Fish Co. , 727 F.2d 1429, 1449 (9th Cir. 1984)(prejudgment interest on Title VII backpay award appropriate).

Contrary to Pfizer's contention, awarding prejudgment interest does not reward Arnold for continuing to use sedating medication. As noted above, the jury initially awarded Arnold $2, 700, 600 in economic damages, which it then substantially reduced to account for Arnold's use of sedating medication. Failing to award prejudgment interest would, in essence, constitute an unwarranted further reduction on the same basis, Accordingly, on this ...


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