A former Tintic School District employee to whom jurors have already awarded $218,000 in damages may receive more money.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball should not have enforced a blanket prohibition against punitive damages during the March 2001 trial. The court ordered the case back before Kimball for an additional trial on the matter.
Debra Youren, a former teacher at the small West Desert High School, filed the whistle-blower and civil-rights lawsuit against the school district, its superintendent and principal in early 2001. She claimed she lost her job after she reported allegations of inappropriate relationships between students and teachers, implicating members of a local polygamous community.
Following an eight-day trial, jurors levied $65,000 in damages against the school district and another $65,000 against the district's superintendent, Patricia Rowse, on Youren's whistle-blower claims. Jurors awarded Youren another $88,000 — $55,500 against the district and $32,500 against Rowse — on her civil rights claims.
West Desert High Principal Ed Alder was not found liable for any damages.
Under state law, the school district is immune from an awarding of punitive damages. Thus, the only issue at trial will be whether Rowse violated Youren's rights in such a way to support a punitive-damages award.
"Ms. Youren's evidence in the record, if believed, appears to us to reflect actions that should be deterred and punished," Wednesday's opinion states. "Ms. Youren's efforts to bring to light the questionable activities at her school were allegedly met with contempt, hostility and anger."
The court dismissed the school district's claims that Youren's lawsuit was filed outside a 180-day statute of limitations, that Kimball inappropriately allowed Rowse to be sued in her additional capacity on the whistle-blower claims and that the jury was allowed to doubly assess damages against both Rowse and the school district.
The appeals court also denied Youren's claim that Kimball wrongfully calculated the attorneys' fees awarded in the case. The three-judge panel upheld the hourly rate of $105, which resulted in a $64,783 award of attorneys' fees and court costs.
Youren also filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Rowse and Alder in state court. That case was dismissed last year, but Youren has appealed the decision to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Late last month Youren also filed another federal lawsuit, claiming she has applied for several jobs within the school district since the initial award of damages but has been "blacklisted" from jobs in the area.