Jim Ferguson v. Middle Tennessee State University
Lower court summary:
This appeal involves an employee’s claim of retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The plaintiff employee filed a lawsuit against his employer, the defendant university, asserting several claims of employment discrimination under state and federal statutes. Subsequently, in a second lawsuit against the university, the plaintiff employee asserted that he suffered adverse job actions after he filed his charge of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the first discrimination lawsuit. The alleged adverse job actions included making the employee perform tasks that resulted in physical injuries. The lawsuits were consolidated and, after an eight-day jury trial, the jury awarded the employee $3 million in compensatory damages on the retaliation claim only. The defendant university appeals. We hold that, to prove a claim of retaliation for engaging in protected activity, the plaintiff was required to present material evidence to the jury that the decisionmaker, his supervisor at the university, was aware of the plaintiff’s protected activity when she took the adverse job actions against the plaintiff. The plaintiff employee presented no material evidence at trial of such knowledge by his supervisor at the relevant time. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand for entry of an order dismissing the plaintiff employee’s complaint.