The Fifth Circuit recently vacated a jury award for mental anguish damages based on the absence of any medical evidence. A Northern District of Texas jury found for the plaintiff, who asserted age discrimination claims under the ADEA and TCHRA, and awarded him mental anguish damages totaling $1,000,000, which the district court remitted to $100,000.
The Fifth Circuit subsequently vacated the mental anguish award. See Miller v. Raytheon Company, No. 11-10586 (5th Cir. 5-14-2013). The Fifth Circuit based its decision on the plaintiff’s failure to present any expert medical or psychological testimony regarding the extent of his mental anguish. Instead, the plaintiff solely relied on his own testimony as well as the testimony of his wife. The plaintiff testified that he suffered chest pain, back pain and sleep disturbances. However, he also admitted that he did not take any over-the-counter or sleep medications, and that he never sought the assistance of any health care professional or counselor. The Fifth Circuit summarily concluded that the plaintiff’s and his wife’s “self-serving testimony [was] legally insufficient,” and vacated the mental anguish award.
This decision addresses a familiar fact pattern that we see often in employment discrimination cases, and provides employers with a significant basis for attacking unsupported mental anguish claims. Although this decision was reached on appeal after a jury verdict, its reasoning should prove to be helpful much earlier in the life of a case. For instance, savvy employers faced with similarly unfounded mental anguish claims after engaging in the discovery process should consider attacking them at the summary judgment stage based on the rationale in Miller. The opinion can be found at the following link http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions%5Cpub%5C11/11-10586-CV0.wpd.pdf