CSK recently obtained an Opinion quashing a trial court order that compelled an employer to produce financial worth discovery in an employment discrimination case under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”), wherein the former employee’s complaint sought punitive damages.
CSK successfully argued before the Fourth District Court of Appeal that the trial court’s order departed from the essential requirements of law because the former employee failed to demonstrate an actual factual basis for punitive damages. Indeed, the trial court refused to consider whether there was an actual factual basis for punitive damages prior to compelling the financial worth discovery because the Florida Civil Rights Act permits a plaintiff to plead a claim for punitive damages without being subjected to the requirements of section 768.72, Florida Statutes.
The Fourth District expressly held that the trial court’s “mistaken conclusion that it could not consider the issue [was] a departure from the essential requirements of law[,]” explaining that even prior to the enactment of section 768.72, the Florida Supreme Court in Tennant v. Charlton, 377 So. 2d 1169 (Fla. 1979), held that trial courts were to consider whether there is an actual factual basis to support a punitive damage claim when deciding whether to limit, deny, or delay discovery. “Tennant still constitutes the law in those cases involving punitive damages that are not governed by section 768.72, including the FCRA.”
This is the first Florida appellate decision to hold that an FCRA plaintiff is required to demonstrate an actual factual basis for punitive damages before a defendant may be compelled to produce financial worth discovery. While an FCRA plaintiff may be free to plead a claim for punitive damages without having to satisfy the requirements of section 768.72, financial worth discovery may no longer be compelled as a matter of course in such cases.
A copy of the Opinion may be found here. Should you have any questions or desire more information regarding this recent appellate decision, please contact CSK Appellate Group attorneys, Lissette Gonzalez and Alexandra Valdes. Should you be interested in consulting on similar FCRA cases, please contact CSK’s Employment and Labor Group led by CSK attorneys, Barry Postman and Jonathan Vine.