This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




Matthew W. Krotzer,



North Country Business Products, Inc.,


Filed February 23, 1999

Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part, and Remanded

Davies, Judge

Beltrami County District Court

File No. C097120

Nicholas P. Granath, Granath & O'Donnell, P.A., Firstar Bank Bldg., Suite 310, 8800 West Highway 7, St. Louis Park, MN 55426 (for appellant)

Thomas T. Smith, Smith Law Firm, P.A., 115 Fifth St. N.W., Bemidji, MN 56601-3004 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Amundson, Judge.



Appellant argues that the trial court erred by reducing judgment to an amount less than the jury's special verdict on damages and abused its discretion in its award of attorney fees and expenses. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


Appellant Matthew W. Krotzer sued his former employer, respondent North Country Business Products, Inc., alleging common law fraud and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA).

During trial, appellant voluntarily dismissed his fraud and MHRA claims. The ADA claims were submitted to the jury, which found respondent liable for intentional discrimination based on disability and awarded as damages: $35,360 for past wages, $8,840 for future loss of earnings, and $5,800 for past embarrassment and emotional distress. Respondent then moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or a new trial.

In its order for judgment, the trial court accepted the jury verdict of $5,800 for past embarrassment and emotional distress, but reduced from $35,360 to $8,840 the award for past wage loss and set aside the $8,840 award for future earnings. The court "otherwise denied" respondent's motion for JNOV and new trial. The court also awarded appellant $8,381 for attorney fees and $2,121 for costs. Appellant had asked for $64,927 in attorney fees and costs. This appeal followed.



The construction of a statute is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. Hibbing Educ. Ass'n v. Public Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985).

Appellant argues that the trial court treated the jury's special verdict award of back pay as advisory and that this was error because he was entitled under the ADA to a jury trial on the issue of back pay. Appellant points to 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(c) s(1994), which guarantees a jury trial on the issues of compensatory and punitive damages under the ADA.

But 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(2) (1994) expressly excludes from consideration by a jury back pay claims for unlawful employment practices under the ADA:

Compensatory damages awarded under this section shall not include backpay, interest on backpay, or any other type of relief authorized under [42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g)].

(Emphasis added.) Thus, section 1981a reserves to the trial court, rather than a jury, back pay and certain other Title VII remedies incorporated into the ADA. See 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (1994) (incorporating Title VII remedies into ADA). Under the statute, back pay is awarded in the trial court's discretion and submission to the jury is not mandatory.

Appellant argues that section 1981a merely excludes back pay from the cap on compensatory and punitive damages, retaining back pay within the jury's domain. But the plain language of section 1981a undermines appellant's argument. The statute makes clear that back pay is reserved to the court. Appellant was not entitled to a jury trial on the issue of back pay; the court did not err by weighing the evidence and issuing its own finding regarding back pay, regardless of the jury's special verdict.


Appellant argues that the trial court erred by negating the jury's front pay award of $8,840. Negating the award occurred in the context of respondent's motion for JNOV. "[G]ranting of JNOV is a question of law subject to de novo review." Huyen v. Driscoll, 479 N.W.2d 76, 78 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. Feb. 10, 1992). JNOV "is proper only when the evidence is practically conclusive against the verdict and reasonable minds can reach only one conclusion." Nadeau v. County of Ramsey, 277 N.W.2d 520, 522 (Minn. 1979). "All the evidence must be taken into account and viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict." Tuckner v. Chouinard, 407 N.W.2d 723, 725 (Minn. App. 1987).

We find the trial court's decision to depart from the jury's special verdict on the issue of front pay erroneous as a matter of law. Appellant was statutorily entitled to a jury trial on future losses. 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(a), (c) (1994). And the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, supports the jury's conclusion that appellant suffered some future wage loss as a result of respondent's discriminatory treatment. By setting aside the jury's verdict on front pay, the trial court effectively deprived appellant of his statutory right to have a jury determination of his damages. We reverse the court's grant of JNOV on the issue of front pay and remand that issue.

On remand, the trial court has three options on front pay. It may enter judgment for front pay in an amount consistent with the jury verdict. Or it may order remittitur, but only if the remittitur is coupled with the new-trial option traditionally offered when remittitur is granted. See Kalpin v. Helgeson, 254 N.W.2d 378, 380 (Minn. 1977) (granting new trial on issue of damages unless plaintiff would agree to remittitur). Or the court may grant a new trial without remittitur. Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01(e) (new trial may be granted if damages excessive).[1]


We will not modify the trial court's decision regarding attorney fees and costs absent an abuse of discretion. Becker v. Alloy Hardfacing & Eng'g Co., 401 N.W.2d 655, 661 (Minn. 1987).

Appellant claimed total attorney fees and costs of $64,927. The trial court awarded appellant attorney fees of $8,381 (one-third of appellant's total money judgment of $25,142). The court based its award on a one-third contingent fee arrangement, finding that appellant's affidavit in support of attorney fees was not sufficiently detailed to allow the court to determine "what charges were specifically related to the ADA claims upon which [appellant] prevailed."

We disagree with the court's reasoning. Itemized hourly records of fees were available to the court. The court could have determined its award based on a reasonable hourly fee or, if the documents were insufficient, the court could have ordered supplementary documentation. But the court's decision to assume a contingency fee rate was an abuse of discretion, and we remand for a new attorney fees award.

We find no abuse of discretion in the trial court's denials of several of appellant's claimed expenses and affirm those denials.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

[1] The award for past embarrassment and emotional distress, not having been appealed, has become final.