A federal jury on Thursday awarded a Belfast man more than $850,000 in back wages and damages following his second employment discrimination trial in three years.
The jury awarded 32-year-old Brian Bell $42,000 in lost wages, $75,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages.
Bell sued his former employer, O’Reilly Auto Parts in Belfast, in 2016 after he was fired when he sought accommodation for his mental health issues, including Tourette’s syndrome and depression. Bell sought to limit his scheduled hours to 45 per week rather than the nearly 100 hours he had been working due to a staff shortage.
At the first trial in July 2018, a jury found in favor of the auto parts store. Bell appealed the decision the following November, and a three-judge panel with the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a rare reversal of the decision in August 2020.
The appellate court found that U.S. District Judge Jon Levy incorrectly told jurors that to find in Bell’s favor they had to conclude he needed an accomodation to do his job and could not fulfill the requirements of a manager’s position without one.
The judges in Boston instead found that under the Maine Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Bell had to prove three things: that he was handicapped within the meaning of those laws; that he was qualified to perform the job with or without an accommodation; and that his employer knew about the disability and failed to accommodate it.
Levy corrected his error in instructions to the jury Thursday.
Bell’s attorney, Chad Hansen of Portland, said after the verdict was announced that the time it took for his client to prevail was not the norm.
“It’s not unusual for employment cases to take some years to resolve but this case has gone on for over six years, with two jury trials, a First Circuit appeal, and petition to the U.S Supreme Court,” he said. “It has been a great lesson in patience. We are very satisfied with the result and feel that the court and jury did justice.”
The auto parts store asked the nation’s high court to hear an appeal of the 1st Circuit’s decision. The court denied the request in June.
Christopher Taintor of Portland, who represented the auto parts store, did not return a request for comment.
Bell now works for athenahealth in Belfast, according to Hansen.
The retrial was the first civil jury trial to be held in U.S. District Court in Bangor since the pandemic shuttered courts across the country in March 2020.