The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling in Pitcher v. Centene Corporation. A jury found Ms. Pitcher’s employer, Centene, liable for retaliatory discharge and awarded her over $1.3 million. Ms. Pitcher claimed Centene fired her for raising concerns that her employer’s billing practices may violate the False Claims Act concerning Medicaid reimbursements. Her award includes $80,012 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. Also, Pitcher received over half a million dollars in front pay, to compensate Pitcher for lost wages up until her date of retirement.
Centene appealed the trial court’s ruling on multiple grounds, mainly centering around jurisdictional arguments and the award of front pay.
In retaliation cases, orders reinstating the employee are standard. However, in cases where there is a finding of irreparable damage to the employee-employer relationship, the court may require the employer to provide front pay to the employee. In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled that the issue of front pay is up to the trial court’s discretion and must be consistent with the jury’s factual findings. The court stated the awarding of “punitive damages reveal[ed] the jury’s sentiment with regard to [Centene]’s illegal conduct.” Centene argued that front pay was excessive in light of the compensatory and high punitive damages already awarded to Pitcher. However, the Court found that Centene “cannot claim the jury addressed front pay in its award because Appellants ensured this issue was reserved for the court” when it successfully fought to have the testimony about front pay excluded from the trial.
The Court also ruled in Pitcher’s favor on all of the remaining grounds.