A jury's finding that a longtime University of Louisiana at Lafayette Police Department employee was the victim of age discrimination has been affirmed by a divided state appeals court.
The jury, in East Baton Rouge Parish, awarded more than $367,000 to James Robinson, who was 66 when he retired with the rank of major in 2011 as second in command to UL-Lafayette Police Chief Joey Sturm.
Robinson had worked for the campus police department for 40 years.
A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal voted 2-1 Friday to affirm both the jury's unanimous age discrimination verdict and award of damages.
The University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors had appealed both to the Baton Rouge appellate court.
Robinson's attorney, Karl Bernard, said Wednesday he hopes the board won't appeal the case any further.
"He was proven to be right by the trial court and now by the appellate court," Bernard said.
The state Attorney General's Office, which is representing the UL System board, is considering its options, said Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for the office.
Dissenting 1st Circuit Judge Wayne Ray Chutz said the trial evidence was "simply insufficient" to support the jury's conclusion of liability under the federal or state age discrimination employment acts, or the amount of damages awarded.
Chutz said the awarding of $367,918 to Robinson was excessive and should have been reduced.
But Circuit Judges John Michael Guidry and Guy Holdridge said they found no error in the jury's determination of age discrimination by the UL-Lafayette Police Department.
"We find that the jury had conflicting evidence before it and apparently did not find credible defendant's explanation that Robinson voluntarily retired or that any adverse employment action taken against him was due to his insubordination," Guidry wrote.
Robinson claims he was forced to retire due to Sturm's elimination of his job duties and the chief's harassment of him.
Robinson received his first ever unsatisfactory job performance evaluation in early 2011, and the evidence custodian duties he had held since 1999 were ultimately turned over to another officer, the appeals court noted.
Sturm recommended disciplinary action against Robinson in March 2011 for failing to follow direct orders related to an evidence room audit and the transfer and transition of his responsibility as evidence custodian to the other officer, according to the court's ruling.
An evidence room audit had never been performed by anyone at the campus police department, the appeals court noted, and the department never had a problem producing evidence during Robinson's tenure as evidence custodian.
The proposed disciplinary action was rescinded after Robinson gave notice in May 2011 that he would retire in July of that year.
In his final months of service, Robinson was subjected to an internal affairs investigation over alleged missing evidence that was later located, and he was reassigned to patrol the New Iberia Research Center, where the university houses primates.
"It is undisputed that this assignment was not in conformity with his job description as a Police Major," Guidry wrote.
The judge acknowledged that Robinson continued to collect the same salary. Chutz said Robinson was paid $69,900 annually.