A federal jury awarded two former employees of Federal Fruit & Produce Co. Inc. a total of more than $1.2 million in a civil rights case.
Richard Perkins, a black truck driver, and his white co-worker, Richard Miller, filed the suit in March 2011 in U.S. District Court in Denver. Perkins alleged that Federal Fruit, Denver, and its general manager were guilty of disparate treatment, unlawful discharge and retaliation because of race. Miller alleged Federal and its general manager were guilty of unlawful retaliation against him.
Federal Fruit is a wholesale distributor, handling a full line of produce. It was founded in 1935, according to its website, and bought in 1987 by John Domenico, Stan Kouba and the senior Mike Martelli. Domenico retired in 2011.
A jury of five whites and one Hispanic returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all counts May 25 against the company and general manager Martelli.
Ted Kouba, Federal Fruit’s comptroller, said June 6 that he could not comment on the case because the company views it as ongoing litigation. He confirmed that Martelli remains on staff as general manager.
According to court documents, Martelli used racial slurs and profanity when talking to Perkins in 2009. Several employees witnessed the incident, but Martinelli denied using the language. Miller was one of the co-workers who saw the incident and openly voiced support for minority co-workers. Eventually both Perkins and Miller were fired.
The jury awarded Perkins $962,894 and Miller $300,000. The breakdown on Miller’s award is: $50,000 for mental and emotional pain from both Martelli individually and Federal as a company; and $200,000 in punitive damages from Martelli.
The breakdown on Perkins award from Federal is: $29,697 in lost wages; $65,000 for pain and anguish; and $480,000 in punitive damages. The jury ordered Martelli to pay Perkins $33,197 in lost wages, $75,000 for pain and anguish and $280,000 in punitive damages.