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Hubbell v. FedEx Smartpost Inc.

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

March 13, 2018

SHERYL HUBBELL, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDEX SMARTPOST, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S RULE 50 MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND RULE 59 MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL AND/OR REMITTITUR (DOC. 85)

          GEORGE CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Sheryl Hubbell brought this action against defendant FedEx Smartpost, Inc., alleging that she was subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation. On June 9, 2017, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff on her retaliation claims and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. The jury found for defendant on the gender discrimination claims. This matter is presently before the Court on defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial and/or remittitur. (Doc. 85). For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         On October 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant in federal court. (Doc. 1). She alleged gender discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under Title VII. Plaintiff later amended her complaint to include a second retaliation claim. (Doc. 15). The Court granted summary judgment for defendant on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim. (Doc. 32).

         In 2016, plaintiff filed a second lawsuit against defendant in Wayne County Circuit Court. Plaintiff relied on the same facts to allege gender discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment in violation of Michigan's Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act. Defendant removed the civil action to federal court, where it was consolidated with the instant case. (Doc. 35).

         On June 5, 2017, a jury trial commenced on five of plaintiff's claims; gender discrimination and two counts of retaliation in violation of Title VII, and gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ELCRA. Defendant made an oral motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 at the end of plaintiff's proofs on June 7, 2017. Defendant renewed this motion on June 9, 2017, before the case was submitted to the jury. The Court took the motions under advisement. On the same day, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant on the gender discrimination claims and in favor of plaintiff on the retaliation claims. The jury awarded plaintiff $32, 100 for economic damages to the date of the verdict, $53, 500 for future economic damages, $30, 000 for non-economic damages, and $403, 950 for punitive damages.

         II. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), when ruling on a judgment as a matter of law, the Court may allow the verdict to stand, order a new trial, or direct entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). When evaluating a Rule 50(b) motion, the evidence should not be weighed, and the credibility of the witnesses should not be questioned. Conwood Co. L.P. v. United States Tobacco Co., 290 F.3d 768, 781 (6th Cir. 2002). Judgment as a matter of law “may be granted only if in viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for the jury, and reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion, in favor of the moving party.” Gray v. Toshiba Am. Consumer Prods., Inc., 263 F.3d 595, 598 (6th Cir. 2001). “Thus, while the district court has the duty to intervene in appropriate cases, the jury's verdict should not be disturbed simply because different inferences and conclusions could have been drawn or because other results are more reasonable.” Wheaton v. N. Oakland Med. Ctr., No. 00-74656, 2006 WL 44163, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 6, 2006).

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a), a new trial may be granted “in an action in which there has been a trial by jury, for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a).

         III. Analysis

         A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Having considered the entire record, the Court finds that there was sufficient evidence for the jury's verdict for plaintiff on her retaliation claims. Plaintiff presented evidence regarding her treatment at FedEx and asserted that she was unfairly disciplined and prohibited from clocking in with other employees after filing an E.E.O.C. complaint. Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the Court is unable to find that there is no genuine issue of material fact or that reasonable minds could only conclude in favor of defendant. Defendant's request for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's retaliation claims is DENIED.

         The Court further finds that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict imposing punitive damages. A jury may award punitive damages in a discrimination case “if the complaining party demonstrates that the respondent engaged in a discriminatory practice . . . with malice or with reckless indifference to [her] federally protected rights.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(1). “The terms ‘malice' and ‘reckless indifference' pertain not to the employer's awareness that it is engaging in discrimination, but to its knowledge that it may be acting in violation of federal law.” Kolstad v. American Dental Assoc., 527 U.S. 526, 527 (1999). “This standard requires a plaintiff to prove more than merely intentional discrimination.” White v. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co., 364 F.3d 789, 808 (6th Cir. 2004). See also Beya v. Hoxworth Blood Ctr., No. 97-4028, 97-4170, 97-4173, 97-4177, 1991 WL 137625, at *3 (6th Cir. Mar. 3, 1999) (stating that the Sixth Circuit “has repeatedly recognized that the punitive damages standard is higher than the general standards for liability for discrimination or retaliation.”). A plaintiff may demonstrate the requisite mental state by showing that “the relevant individuals knew of or were familiar with the anti-discrimination laws and the employer's practices for implementing those laws” and discriminated despite that knowledge, or that “defendant's employees lied, either to the plaintiff or to the jury, in order to cover up their discriminatory actions.” Hall v. Consolidated Freightways Corp. of Delaware, 337 F.3d 669, 675 (6th Cir. 2003).

         An employer, however, may not be vicariously liable for intentional violations of Title VII when the violations are contrary to the employer's good-faith efforts to comply with Title VII. Kolstad, 527 U.S. at 545-46. To determine whether an employer engaged in good faith efforts to comply with Title VII, the court focuses “both on whether the defendant employer had a written . . . policy and whether the employer effectively publicized and enforced its policy.” Parker v. General Extrusions, Inc.491 F.3d 596 603 (6th Cir. 2007). “[T]he mere existence of a written anti-discrimination alone does not shield the company from punitive damages.” Tisdale v. Fed. Express ...


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