New Massey & Duffy Multi Million Dollar Verdict

Man Denied Employment Receives over $3.5 Million Jury Verdict
Ever wonder what that box means when you apply for a job?: “Authorization to conduct a criminal background check.”These words are often followed by a statement of applicant rights under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act (FCRA).  Hardly any thought goes into this question, especially by applicants with no criminal record.  A jury in Gainesville Federal Court weighed in on this question on Friday, October 28, 2016 in the case of Williams v. First Advantage.

In a tragic case of mistaken identity, Richard Williams of Levy County, received compensation to the amount of $3.55 Million in a federal courthouse on Friday morning, October 28th.  It took the jury from Thursday afternoon until early Friday to calculate the loss of income, emotional stress and punitive damage awards.

Unfortunately, for Mr. Williams, he was mistaken for a Broward county man named Ricky Williams, due to the similarity of their names and identical date of birth.  When Richard Williams applied for a job as a customer service representative, he was ultimately denied due to the numerous felonies committed by a man who lived 300 miles away.

So, Richard Williams called the company that provided the erroneous background report and was assured the error would be corrected.  He soon found out that was not the case when he was denied a job at a grocery store chain.  Unable to work, unable to pay his bills, Richard Williams found himself on hard times.  He was unable to eat, depressed, and stressed out about money.  This led Mr. Williams to seek legal counsel with a Gainesville employment attorney, Michael Massey of Massey & Duffy, PLLC (www.352law.com). Mr. Massey sought compensation for Richard Williams under the Fair Credit and Reporting Act.

The lawsuit states the company did not follow its own procedures for people with common names or set up an effective procedure for someone already misidentified once. The Defendant did not use available reports that show Social Security numbers or address histories. Publicly available records from the Department of Corrections showed Ricky Williams was in jail in Broward County when Richard Williams applied for the job at the grocery store chain.

The Defendant states its procedures result in accurate reports 99.61 percent of the time, and cannot be held liable for marginal errors.  However, this statistic only reflects disputes filed, not overall errors that go unreported.  Between 2009 and 2013, the Defendant received 17,341 disputes nationwide resulting in 14,346 revisions. In Florida, 2,038 consumers filed disputes from 2010 to 2013 resulting in 1,746 revised background reports.

Co-counsel for Richard Williams, West Palm Beach attorney, Barry Balmuth provided these comments in an article with the Gainesville Sun “They never acknowledged that they did anything wrong,” Mr. Balmuth said. “They just accept that 14,000 people is like collateral damage. They say look, we have a low error rate and mistakes are going to be made, but there’s nothing wrong with our system.”

Sample Federal Court Verdict Form, Fair Credit Reporting Act

PLAINTIFF’S PROPOSED SPECIAL

JURY INTERROGATORIES/JURY VERDICT FORM

 

PART A.        FCRA CLAIMS

 

(1)(a)   In preparing the background report about Richard Alexander Williams (“Richard Williams”) for Rent-A-Center dated February 28, 2012, did First Advantage LNS Screening Solutions, Inc. (“First Advantage”) negligently fail to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning Richard Williams contained in the report?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

If your answer to the preceding question is yes, answer the next question.  If your answer is no, continue to question (1)(b)

 

Was First Advantage’s conduct as it relates to the above also willful?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

Please continue to (1)(b)

 

(1)(b) In preparing the background report about Richard Williams for Winn-Dixie dated April 25, 2013, did First Advantage negligently fail to follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning Richard Williams contained in the report?

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

If your answer to the preceding question is yes, answer the next question.  If your answer is no, continue to question 2

 

Was First Advantage’s conduct as it relates to the above also willful?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

Please continue to question 2

 

(2)       Did First Advantage negligently reinsert information it previously deleted pursuant to a dispute of that information made by Richard Williams in the file for Richard Williams and, if so, did it fail to comply with the requirements of the FCRA for certification of such information by a furnisher of the information and did it also fail to comply with the provisions requiring notice to Richard Williams of the reinsertion of such information?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

If your answer to the preceding question is yes, answer the next question.  If your answer is no, continue to question 3

 

Was First Advantage’s conduct as it relates to the above also willful?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

Please continue to question 3

 

(3)       Did First Advantage negligently use a background report about Richard Williams for employment purposes and, if so, did it take any adverse action within the meaning of the FCRA based in whole or in part on such a report and, if so, did it fail to provide Richard Williams with a copy of the report on which its adverse action was based and a description in writing of the rights of a consumer under the FCRA at least five (5) days before it took such adverse action?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

If your answer to the preceding question is yes, answer the next question.  If your answer is no, continue to question 4

 

Was First Advantage’s conduct as it relates to the above also willful?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

Please continue to question 4

 

 (4)      Did First Advantage negligently report public record information that was likely to have an adverse effect upon Richard Williams’ ability to obtain employment in a background report and, if so, did First Advantage fail to provide Richard Williams with notice that it was reporting such public record information at the same time it reported such information and, if so, did First Advantage fail to maintain strict procedures designed to insure that, whenever public record information which is likely to have an adverse effect on a consumer’s ability to obtain employment is reported, it is complete and up to date?

Yes ________             or         No

 

If your answer to the preceding question is yes, answer the next question.

 

Was First Advantage’s conduct as it relates to the above also willful?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

 

(IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED “NO” TO ALL OF THE ABOVE QUESTIONS, UNDER PART A ABOVE (1(a), 1(b), 2, 3, and 4), YOUR DELIBERATIONS ARE CONCLUDED.  PLEASE TELL THE CLERK THAT YOU ARE DONE.

 

IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED “YES” TO ANY QUESTION UNDER PART A ABOVE (1(a), 1(b), 2, 3, and 4), PLEASE COMPLETE PART B, BELOW)

 

PART B.        DAMAGES

 

(5)       Did you also find that First Advantage’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing actual damages to Richard Williams?

 

Yes ________             or         No ________

 

If you answered no to question 5, please continue to question 6.  If you answered yes to question 5, above, you must fill in the lines below for all damages as supported by the evidence:

 

(a)     We assess damages for Richard Williams’ lost wages and benefits  in the amount of:

 

$ ___________________________ (Fill in amount).

 

(b)     We assess damages for Richard Williams’ emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and/or mental anguish in the amount of:

 

$ ___________________________ (Fill in amount).

 

(f)     We assess damages for harm to Richard Williams’ name and reputation in the amount of:

 

$ ___________________________ (Fill in amount).

 

 

(6)       If you answered “Yes” to Questions 1(a), 1(b), 2, 3 or 4 above, and you also answered yes to any of the questions that followed Questions 1(a), 1(b), 2, 3 or 4 above that asked if First Advantage’s conduct was willful, you must additionally determine what amount of punitive and statutory damages are appropriate under the facts of this case, as supported by the evidence. (You must make this determination regardless of whether you found that First Advantage’s conduct caused any actual damages to Richard Williams):

 

(a)     We assess punitive damages of $ ___________________ (Fill in amount).

 

(b)     We assess statutory damages of $___________

(You must fill in an amount between $100 and $1,000).

 

THE FOREPERSON SHOULD SIGN AND DATE THIS VERDICT.  YOUR DELIBERATIONS ARE CONCLUDED.  PLEASE TELL THE CLERK THAT YOU ARE DONE.

 

Dated:____________________________

 

X_______________________________

Foreperson