ORLEANS — The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed
the dismissal of a wrongful-termination lawsuit brought by a nurse
who claimed she was fired for raising age-discrimination complaints.
Judges found that
5th Circuit precedent bars nurse supervisor Susan Vaughan's pain and
suffering claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
against Anderson Regional Medical Center.
In an opinion
filed Feb. 15, the panel pointed out that the district court at the
Southern District of Mississippi wrote in its dismissal order that
divergent views on recoveries under the ADEA are held by other
circuit courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The district court,
finding that there was "substantial ground for differences of
opinion" on the availability of pain and suffering and punitive
damages in ADEA retaliation cases, certified an appeal to the 5th
Circuit, which granted leave to file an interlocutory appeal.
judges on the panel included James Graves Jr., Fortunato Benavides
and Catharina Haynes.
The district court,
in its analysis, relied on a case decided in 1977, Dean v. Am. Sec.
parties to the litigation disputed Dean's applicability, the appeals
Graves, who wrote
the opinion for the panel, said that it adheres to a “rule of
orderliness,” under which it “may not overturn a controlling
precedent absent an intervening change in law, such as by a statutory
amendment, or the Supreme Court,” or en banc court — which is the
full court of judges.
if a panel’s interpretation of the law appears flawed, the rule of
orderliness prevents a subsequent panel from declaring it void,”
Graves wrote that
in order for the panel to determine if the rule of orderliness
applies, it has to determine whether the precedent in Dean is
“distinguishable” from this case or whether an intervening change
in law justifies setting Dean aside.
“We conclude that
the answer to both questions is ‘no,’” Graves wrote.
According to the
opinion, Vaughan conceded that Dean did not allow for pain and
suffering and punitive recoveries for ADEA age-discrimination claims.
However, she argued that Dean does not control ADEA
He explained that
the finding in Dean held that neither general damages, such
as compensatory damages for pain and suffering, nor punitive damages
are recoverable in private actions based on the ADEA.
argument that the 1977 Fair Labor Standards Act amendments “enlarged”
the remedies available for ADEA retaliation claims was supported by a
decision in at least one circuit court and the EEOC had endorsed that
interpretation, the opinion stated.
however, that Vaughan’s argument fails to recognize the 1977 FLSA
amendments incorporated remedial language substantively identical to
passages already provided in the ADEA,” Graves wrote. “Put
simply, the 1977 FLSA amendments do not disturb our holding in Dean,
because they added language to the FLSA that we have already
construed in the context of the ADEA —in Dean.”
The 5th Circuit
panel ruled that Vaughan may not invoke the ADEA as a basis for
general compensatory damages for pain and suffering or for punitive
intervening change in law that would lead us to set Dean aside,
we affirm (dismissal)," Graves wrote.