© Reuters. People stand near the FedEx Express logo during the presentation of the future extension of the FedEx hub in Roissy-en-France, North of Paris, France, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) -A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out a $366.2 million verdict against FedEx (NYSE:), in a case brought by a Black sales manager who said the package delivery company fired her in retaliation for accusing her supervisor of race discrimination.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the plaintiff, Jennifer Harris, was entitled to none of the $365 million of punitive damages that a Houston jury awarded her in Oct. 2022.
It also reduced Harris’ damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish and inconvenience to $248,620 from $1.16 million, despite finding sufficient evidence to support her retaliation claim.
Harris’ lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. FedEx and its lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests.
The award against Memphis, Tennessee-based FedEx had been among the largest in a U.S. workplace bias or retaliation case involving a single worker.
Harris had worked for FedEx for more than 12 years, first as a sales representative and ultimately as a district sales manager, before being fired in January 2020.
She said her firing stemmed from her complaints about her supervisor, a white woman, who had given her a poor performance review and allegedly tried to demote her.
But the New Orleans-based appeals court said Harris did not meet the “heavy burden” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 of showing that FedEx acted with malice or reckless indifference toward her, in the face of a “perceived risk” that its actions would violate federal law.
Circuit Judge Cory Wilson said the evidence suggested that the supervisor believed Harris should be disciplined for insubordination, not in retaliation for her complaints.
“For punitive damages, it is the employer’s subjective intent that matters,” Wilson wrote for a three-judge panel.
The case is Harris v. FedEx Corporate Services Inc, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 23-20035.