Parties generally have a duty to mitigate their damages under Florida law. A party’s “failure to mitigate” its damages is a defense commonly raised in employment litigation. “The doctrine of avoidance consequences, commonly referred to as a duty to mitigate damages, prevents a party from recovering those damages inflicted by a wrongdoer which the injured party could have avoided without undue risk, burden, or humiliation.” Graphic Associates, Inc. v. Riviana Restaurant Corp., 461 So. 2d 1011 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984). A party’s failure to mitigate its damages is an affirmative defense that can be raised by businesses against former employees. Frederick v. Kirby Tankships, Inc., 205 F.3d 1277 (11th Cir. 2000). Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale employment attorney, who defends businesses and their owners against employment law claims, and represents clients in business litigation in Miami, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. Such claims include alleged employment discrimination and retaliation as well as claims for overtime wages and other related claims.
The failure to mitigate is a prevalent defense in Title VII employment cases. Successful claimants bringing Title VII discrimination claims are typically entitled to backpay. Title VII specifically provides that “[i]nterim earnings or amounts earnable with reasonable diligence by the person or persons discriminated against shall operate to reduce the back pay otherwise allowable.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–5(g)(1). “[I]n calculating a back pay award, the trial court must determine what the employee would have earned had she not been the victim of discrimination, and must subtract from this figure the amount of actual interim earnings.” Richardson v. Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc., 334 F. Supp. 2d 1303 (S.D. Fla. 2004). To establish the affirmative defense of a Title VII claimant’s failure to mitigate damages, the defendant employer “must show that a claimant did not make reasonable efforts to obtain comparable work, or that comparable work was available and the claimant did not seek it out.” Sennello v. Reserve Life Ins. Co., 667 F. Supp. 1498 (S.D. Fla. 1987). Indeed, the “employer must show that the claimant failed to exercise reasonable diligence to locate other suitable employment and maintain a suitable job once it is located.” Richardson v. Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc., 334 F. Supp. 2d 1303 (S.D. Fla. 2004). If “an employer proves that the employee has not made reasonable efforts to obtain work, the employer does not have to establish the availability of substantially comparable employment.” Weaver v. Casa Callardo, Inc., 922 F.2d 1515 (11th Cir. 1991).
A Title VII claimant seeking front or backpay “must make a reasonable and good-faith effort to mitigate her damages.” Richardson v. Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc., 334 F. Supp. 2d 1303 (S.D. Fla. 2004). To do so, the claimant must seek employment “substantially equivalent” to the position from which she was terminated. Reiner v. Family Ford, Inc., 146 F. Supp. 2d 1279 (M.D. Fla. 2001). “Substantially equivalent employment is employment that affords virtually identical promotional opportunities, compensation, job responsibilities, working conditions, and status to those available to employees holding the position from which the Title VII claimant has been discriminatorily terminated.” E.E.O.C. v. Joe’s Stone Crab, Inc., 15 F. Supp. 2d 1363 (S.D. Fla. 1998). Once accepted, the claimant must also “make reasonable and good faith effort to retain the job.” Sennello v. Reserve Life Ins. Co., 667 F.Supp. 1498 (S.D. Fla. 1987).
If a Title VII claimant voluntarily quits a comparable interim job, then the party’s backpay will be decreased by the amount they would have earned had they not quit. Thus, the failure to mitigate damages, or a party’s successful effort to do so, does not defeat a party’s right to recovery. Rather, the mitigated damages amount merely serves to reduce the amount of recoverable damages. Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation v. Rievman, 370 So. 2d 33 (Fla. 3d DCA 1979). However, businesses defending against employment claims need to carefully examine the employee’s post-termination actions. A former employee who files a lawsuit against the former employer forfeits entitlement to backpay by voluntarily removing himself/herself from the job market or workplace and refusing a job substantially equivalent to the job he or she previously held with the former employer. Ford Motor Co. v. E.E.O.C., 458 U.S. 219 (1982).
Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale employment lawyer, and represents clients in Miami, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.