Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.
Bruce Casias worked as an engineer for defense contractor Raytheon for 34 years without issue. Casias oversaw independent testing of a Raytheon GPS project designed for the U.S. Air Force. In November 2015, the project was behind schedule and over budget — Casias’ superior, Joe Hollon, instructed Casias to falsify program data to make the project look more successful. Specifically, Hollon asked Casias to mark all incomplete tasks as complete.
After a phone call, in which Casias questioned the ethics of changing the data and Hollon insisted, Casias changed the data and sent it to the Air Force, as instructed. He immediately notified Raytheon leadership that Hollon had instructed him to falsify data. Over the next few months, Casias received emails from the Air Force asking why the data was suddenly different. He responded only to defer the questions to Hollon. During this period, he repeatedly brought up his ethics concerns to Hollon and was chastised for doing so.
In May 2016, Casias was reassigned from his testing role where he managed dozens of employees to a minor role managing only two. Hollon told Casias’s replacement, David Martinez, that Casias had falsified data and was being removed from his position. Casias felt that he was being punished for telling the truth about the data and contacted Raytheon’s Ethics Department and a Department of Defense hotline to report it.
Casias left Raytheon and took a position with Ball Aerospace. His salary, benefits and rank at Ball were lower. He also experienced depression, health issues, weight changes and relationship problems that led to divorce.
Casias sued Raytheon in the District of Colorado for employment violations, including a violation of the Defense Contractor Whistleblower Protection Act. At trial, a jury found Raytheon had violated the DCWPA and awarded Casias $43,000 back-pay and $1 million noneconomic damages. The district court struck the backpay award, finding the demotion didn’t cause any lost wages.
After trial, Raytheon filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or remittitur. It argued Casias didn’t show an adverse employment action or causation — necessary elements of his claim — that the noneconomic damages awarded by the jury were excessive and that the weight of the evidence was against Casias. The district court denied the motion and Raytheon appealed, arguing that there was not sufficient evidence for a jury to side with Casias on each essential aspect of his DCWPA claim and the damages awarded were so excessive it suggested prejudice.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected both arguments, preserved the jury verdict and affirmed the decisions of the district court.