On August 14, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial in a lawsuit alleging unequal pay due to gender discrimination and retaliation. O’Donnell v. Caine Weiner Company, LLC, No. 18-1826 (7th Cir. 8/14/2019). The plaintiff lost on all counts at a jury trial. She filed a motion for a new trial on numerous grounds, including that the allegedly erroneous jury instructions and verdict forms prejudiced her case. The 7th Circuit affirmed because the plaintiff’s arguments on appeal related only to damages, but the jury found against her on liability and, therefore, the alleged errors did not prejudice her case.
The plaintiff filed a federal lawsuit alleging four claims: (1) sex-based wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act; (2) sex discrimination under Title VII; (3) retaliation under Title VII; and (4) retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The plaintiff made two arguments on appeal: (1) she challenged the jury instructions and verdict forms as legally erroneous and confusing; and (2) she argued that the district court abused its discretion when it excluded her damages expert’s testimony. Both positions failed for the same reason–they relate to the issue of damages. The jury returned verdicts in favor of the defendant on all counts, ruling against the plaintiff on the merits of her claims. Since the jury found the defendant not guilty on the issue of liability, it did not reach the question of damages. In such instances, errors asserted as to jury instructions on damages, and rulings on the admissibility of evidence relating to damages may not be raised on appeal, because no prejudice or harm results from the alleged error. Errors on damages instructions become irrelevant when the jury finds no liability.