Smith v. Glenns Ferry Hwy DistAnnotate this Case
Joanie Smith was employed by the Glenns Ferry Highway District (the District) when she witnessed the District’s office manager overpaying herself on several occasions. Smith reported the overpayments to the District’s superintendent. Sometime after Smith reported these overpayments, the District terminated Smith’s employment. Smith filed suit, alleging adverse employment action in the form of discharge. At trial, the trial court ruled it would use the jury in an advisory capacity concerning any front pay damages. The jury returned a special verdict for Smith, awarding her both back pay and front pay. Following the jury’s verdict, the trial court rejected the jury’s verdict awarding front pay, and entered a reduced award. The trial court reasoned that: (1) the jury’s verdict with respect to front pay was advisory because front pay was an equitable remedy when awarded in lieu of reinstatement; (2) Smith had not properly pleaded “failure to promote” as an adverse action in addition to discharge; and (3) the jury had incorrectly used an erroneous full-time employment status in calculating front pay. The trial court also reduced Smith’s requested attorney fees to an amount less than she had contracted to pay. Smith unsuccessfully moved for post-judgment relief. Smith appealed, and the District cross-appealed, arguing that the issue of back pay also sounded in equity, and that the trial court should have reduced the jury award of back pay. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the trial court erred: (1) when it ruled that there was no right to a jury trial on the issue of front pay; (2) by refusing to include the adverse action of “failure to hire” in the jury instructions and special verdict form; (3) by failing to instruct the jury on the “risk of uncertainty” to be borne by the District in its determination of damages; and (4) by denying Smith post-judgment interest. The Court determined the "failure to hire" instruction and "risk of uncertainty" errors were not prejudicial, and the jury award of front pay should have been reinstated. Smith’s request for entry of judgment nunc pro tunc was declined; however, on remand the trial court was asked to determine whether judgment nunc pro tunc should be entered as of the date of the jury’s verdict. Furthermore, the trial court abused its discretion in reducing the award of attorney fees from the amount Smith requested. The matter was remanded for further proceeedings.