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International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 20, 2017

INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE, AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA (UAW), AND ITS LOCAL 1869, Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR A NEW TRIAL [98]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs United Auto Workers and its Local 1869 ("UAW") filed a complaint alleging that Defendant General Motors LLC ("GM") violated a Collective Bargaining Agreement. The case went to trial and the jury returned a verdict for UAW. GM now moves the Court to enter judgment as a matter of law in GM's favor, or to order a new trial. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Gerald Bosman, Linda Chapman, and Ovidiu Kowalski worked for GM in the Surface Product Engineering (SPE) unit. See ECF 93. In September 2009, GM laid off Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski. Id. In 2010 and 2011, GM hired new employees into the SPE unit. Id. UAW filed suit against GM on behalf of Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski. According to the complaint, GM breached seniority provisions of the 2007 Local Agreement by discharging the three employees and by refusing to recall them at a later date. ECF 11.

         The case was assigned to Judge O'Meara, who granted summary judgment for GM. UAW appealed. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded for the trial court to resolve two questions of fact: (1) whether Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski were capable of performing the work when laid off; and (2) whether Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski were capable of performing the work-and thus had a right to be recalled-when GM hired new employees into the SPE unit. Int'l Union, UAW v. Gen. Motors LLC, 529 F.App'x 760, 764-65 (6th Cir. 2013).

         Following the remand, Judge O'Meara granted UAW's motion for a jury trial over GM's objection and transferred the case. The Court held a trial by jury, which returned a verdict for UAW. ECF 95. GM's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, or a new trial, followed.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), a party may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, or a new trial, after entry of judgment. A court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law if "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find" for a party on any issue. Denhof v. City of Grand Rapids, 494 F.3d 534, 543 (6th Cir. 2007) (quotations omitted). When reviewing a Rule 50 motion, the Court construes the evidence "in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Id.

         Under Rule 59, a court may grant a motion for a new trial if "the verdict is clearly against the weight of the evidence." Id. To evaluate the motion, the court "must compare the opposing proofs, weigh the evidence, and set aside the verdict" only if it is unreasonable. J.C. Wyckoff & Assocs. v. Standard Fire Ins. Co., 936 F.2d 1474, 1487 (6th Cir. 1991). But "the court is not to set aside the verdict simply because it believes another outcome is more justified." Denhof, 494 F.3d at 543.

         DISCUSSION

         At trial, the Court submitted two questions of fact to the jury: (1) Did GM violate the 2007 Local Agreement when it laid off Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski?; and (2) Did GM violate the 2007 Local Agreement when it did not recall Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski to the open positions in the SPE in 2010 and 2011? See ECF 95. The jury answered "yes" to both questions. GM argues that UAW failed to provide sufficient evidence on both questions and that the jury's verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence.

         I. The 2009 Lay-Offs

         At trial, UAW presented a variety of evidence to show that the former employees were capable of doing the work in the SPE unit at the time they were laid off. GM management had authored most of the evidence introduced by the UAW. For example, GM management classified Bosman and Chapman as "Level 7" senior designers with "expert" design skill sets, and Kowalski as a "Level 6" designer with "proficient" design skill sets. Pl. Trial Exh. 5; ECF 105, PgID 2201-02. GM management awarded all three former employees merit pay increases. Pl. Trial Exh. 8; ECF 105, PgID 2203. Additionally, GM provided full "enhanced variable pay" bonuses to each former employee each time the bonuses were offered. Pl. Trial Exh. 8, 12; ECF 105, PgID 2277-79. GM supervisors wrote performance reviews of Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski; each review stated that the former employees had achieved their performance objectives. Pl. Trial Exh. 16-17, 19-23. GM never enrolled any of the three former employees in the "performance improvement plan, " a program designed for employees with performance deficiencies. ECF 104, PgID 2013 (Bosman's testimony), id. at 2058 (Chapman's testimony), id. at 2087-88 (Kowalski's testimony); ECF 105, PgID 2209 (GM supervisor Debbie Lystad's testimony). In addition, Lystad testified that Bosman, Chapman, and Kowalski performed their jobs well, and had never been considered incapable of performing their jobs prior to being laid off. ECF 105, PgID 2157, 2138-39. And when the former employees were informed of their layoffs, GM managers told them it was not related to their work performance. ECF 104, PgID 2028, 2074, 2099.

         GM contends that the testimony of the employees themselves regarding their skill sets is generally not entitled to any weight. ECF 98, PgID 1772 (citing Majewski v. Automatic Data Processing, Inc., 274 F.3d 1106, 1116 (6th Cir. 2001)). Instead, GM argues, the opinion of the pertinent decision maker-Lystad-controls the assessment of an employee's capabilities. Id. (citing Shapira v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 88 F.Supp.2d 813, 829 (E.D. Tenn. 1998), aff'd, 201 F.3d 441 (6th Cir. 1999)). GM's argument is well taken, but unavailing. UAW's evidence regarding the former employee's capabilities originated from GM management, not from the employees. In essence, UAW argued to the jury that GM leadership had ...


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