however, that ample evidence was presented to allow a reasonable jury to find that defendant discharged plaintiff solely in retaliation for his having filed a charge with the EEOC.
Defendant claims that it "produced evidence at trial of a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the discharge: Plaintiff's refusal to cooperate with his employer's investigation of reported thefts." (Filed Doc. No. 102 at 13.) Defendant asserts that plaintiff failed to prove that this proferred explanation was false, and that retaliation was instead the sole cause of the decision to discharge plaintiff. (Id.) I disagree, but--more importantly--so did the jury. Among other things, plaintiff presented evidence from which the jury could properly find that the investigation was a sham; that although many months had elapsed since the computer thefts began, the investigation was initiated only after plaintiff filed a charge with the EEOC; that the investigation focused solely on plaintiff despite other possible suspects; and that the investigation was abandoned after plaintiff was discharged, despite the continuing theft of computers.
Defendant's claim that plaintiff "refused to cooperate" in the investigation after criminal charges against him were dismissed was also severely undermined.
It is thus clear from the evidence that a reasonable jury could--and did--conclude that defendant's proferred reason for discharging plaintiff was a pretext, and that the sole cause of plaintiff's discharge was retaliation for his having filed a charge with the EEOC. See Hicks v. St. Mary's Honor Center, 125 L. Ed. 2d 407, 113 S. Ct. 2742, 2751 (1993) (requiring that once an employer has met its burden of production by coming forward with a nondiscriminatory business reason for discharging a protected employee, the employee must then prove that the business reason was pretextual and that he was intentionally discriminated against).
Defendant further argues that Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497 (3d Cir. 1991), is on point with this case. Defendant is correct in stating that "Quiroga held that the timing of the discharge in relation to the filing of a EEOC complaint does not alone create an inference of discrimination."
(Filed Doc. No. 102 at 14.) Indeed, the Quiroga court was emphatic that the "timing of the discharge in relation to [an] EEOC complaint may suggest discriminatory motive," but that an inference could not be created based on timing alone. Quiroga, 934 F.2d at 501 (quoting Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 708 (3d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1023, 110 S. Ct. 725, 107 L. Ed. 2d 745 (1990)). The plaintiff in Quiroga, however, contrary to defendant's claims, did not present "the same kind of evidence plaintiff proferred in the present action." (Filed Doc. No. 102 at 14.) Rather, the plaintiff in Quiroga "presented only his subjective belief [that he was constructively discharged], but absolutely no supporting evidence that Hasbro's motives were improper." Moreover, the defendant employer presented evidence that it did not retaliate, but instead made extraordinary efforts to placate plaintiff and retain him in its employ. Quiroga, 934 F.2d at 501-02. In contrast, in the present case, plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to support his contention that defendant's motives were improper: he presented evidence that the investigation was a sham designed to elicit a response from him on which defendant could premise the discharge it planned in retaliation for his having filed a charge with the EEOC. See supra notes & . The verdict suggests that the jury accepted this version of events.
Defendant's other cited cases are similarly unavailing. Defendant claims that the present action "is on all fours with the facts" in Savko v. Port Authority of Allegheny County, 800 F. Supp. 275 (W.D. Pa. 1992). Defendant is especially enamored of Savko 's finding that the plaintiff had "failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because she did not establish a causal connection between the filing of the discrimination charge and her subsequent discipline and eventual discharge from employment." Savko, 800 F. Supp. at 286. However, in sharp contrast with Savko, in the present action plaintiff had no such problem establishing the requisite causal connection. Plaintiff presented credible evidence that his EEOC charge was known to at least some of defendants' employees before the investigation was launched. See, e.g., Tr. Trans. 2-186--2-190. Moreover, in Savko the plaintiff did not prove that the employer's stated reason for her discharge was pretextual. Rather, the employer presented evidence demonstrating that the plaintiff was "disciplined for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons and eventually discharged for her repeated acts of insubordination." Savko, 800 F. Supp. at 287. In the present action plaintiff presented competent evidence demonstrating to the jury's satisfaction that defendant's reason for plaintiff's discharge--that he failed to cooperate in an investigation--was pretextual.
Ironically, had defendant claimed that plaintiff was fired because, notwithstanding dismissal of the criminal charges against him, defendant still firmly believed that plaintiff was a thief, defendant might not have been held liable. If the jury accepted such a contention, then retaliation could not have been the "sole cause" for the discharge. Yet defendant never attempted to make this seemingly obvious argument (and--assuming for the moment that the argument could have been made in good faith--such oversights cannot be corrected in post-trial motions). Instead, defendant relied on its so-called policy against attorney attendance at investigatory interviews as the only reason for the discharge. The jury decided, not surprisingly, that this was a spurious reason, and concluded that retaliation was the sole cause for the discharge.
Therefore, to the extent that defendant premises its motion for judgment as a matter of law on insufficient evidence demonstrating that retaliation was the sole cause of plaintiff's discharge, the motion will be denied.
C. Insufficient evidence with respect to damages
Defendant beseeches this court for judgment as a matter of law on damages, or, in the alternative, remittitur, contending that the damage award is unsupported by the evidence. Under Rule 50(b), a damage verdict when supported by proper evidence may not be set aside as excessive unless it is so high as to shock the conscience of the court, or unless it appears that the jury was biased or acted capriciously or unreasonably. Lovejoy v. Monongahela Connecting R.R. Co., 137 F. Supp. 42 (W.D. Pa. 1955). A trial judge must be "extremely reluctant to interfere with the time-honored power of the jury, in the exercise of its collective judgment, to assess the damages sustained by the plaintiff." Tann v. Service Distributors, Inc., 56 F.R.D. 593, 598 (E.D. Pa. 1972) (Becker, J.). Similarly, remittitur is a "device employed when the trial judge finds that a decision of the jury is clearly unsupported and/or excessive." Spence v. Board of Educ., 806 F.2d 1198, 1201 (3d Cir. 1986). Use of remittitur falls within the discretion of the trial judge who is "in the best position to evaluate the evidence presented and determine whether or not the jury has come to a rationally based conclusion." Id.
Under either theory, it is not the court's prerogative to substitute its own judgment as to the amount of damages for that of the jury. Thus, regardless of whether the trial judge agrees or disagrees with the jury's verdict, the verdict must be upheld so long as it is supported by a "minimum quantity of evidence from which a jury might reasonably [decide to] afford relief." Ford Motor Co. v. Summit Motor Prods., Inc., 930 F.2d 277, 290 (3d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 116 L. Ed. 2d 324, 112 S. Ct. 373 (1991).
Defendant contends that plaintiff failed to present evidence "to support anything but a nominal finding of damages for either front or back pay." Defendant additionally contends that plaintiff failed to prove by competent evidence any pain and suffering for which some portion of the compensatory damages were undoubtedly awarded, and that plaintiff provided "no evidence . . . that after his discharge Plaintiff suffered any loss of reputation, humiliation, anguish or loss of life's pleasures." Defendant further contends that plaintiff's "punitive damage award is clearly disproportionate to CIGNA's conduct and the nominal compensatory damages plaintiff actually suffered." (Filed Doc. No. 102 at 19-22.)
Both Title VII and the PHRA permit the award of compensatory damages for lost wages. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g); Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 43, § 962(c)(3) (West Supp. 1994); Gallo v. John Powell Chevrolet, Inc., 779 F. Supp. 804, 811, 817 (M.D. Pa. 1991). Clearly, however, damages in this case were awarded under the PHRA, because the court made no determination of liability.
(Nor would any such determination be necessary under the Title VII claim. See Roebuck v. Drexel University, 852 F.2d 715, 737-38 (3d Cir. 1988) (applying the principle of preeminence of jury verdicts when the elements of proof are identical in concurrently tried claims).)
The PHRA also allows the award of "any other legal or equitable relief as the court deems appropriate." Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 43, § 962(c)(3) (West Supp. 1994). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has interpreted "legal or equitable relief" to encompass "damages for humiliation and mental anguish." Pennsylvania Human Relations Comm'n v. Zamantakis, 478 Pa. 454, 387 A.2d 70, 73 (Pa. 1978); see also Gallo, 779 F. Supp. at 815-16; Lubin v. American Packaging Corp., 760 F. Supp. 450, 452 (E.D. Pa. 1991). "As a practical matter, some degree of emotional distress stems from any violation of a plaintiff's rights, whether that right be rooted in the Constitution, state or federal statutes or the victim's status as a human being." Spence, 806 F.2d at 1202-03 (Higginbotham, J., concurring in result). The difficulty lies in measuring "accurately reasonable compensation" for injuries such as emotional distress. McDonald v. United States, 555 F. Supp. 935, 971 (M.D. Pa. 1983). Damages for emotional distress are by their very nature incapable of precision. In the present action, however, the jury was properly instructed to measure plaintiff's damages including mental anguish, humiliation, and the loss of life's pleasures, and no objection was raised at trial or in the present motion as to the instructions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 51.
Punitive damages in this case also are awarded under the PHRA. Therefore, "the propriety of an award of punitive damages for the conduct in question, and the factors the jury may consider in determining their amount, are questions of state law." Browning-Ferris Indus., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 109 S. Ct. 2909, 2922, 106 L. Ed. 2d 219 (1989). Furthermore, "in reviewing an award of punitive damages, the role of the district court is to determine whether the jury's verdict is within the confines set by state law, and to determine, by reference to federal standards developed under Rule 59, whether a new trial or remittitur should be ordered." Id. The Pennsylvania courts have adopted Section 908(2) of the Restatement (Second) of Torts regarding the imposition of punitive damages. Rizzo v. Haines, 520 Pa. 484, 555 A.2d 58, 69 (Pa. 1989).
That provision permits punitive damages for conduct that is "outrageous because of the defendant's evil motives or his reckless indifference to the rights of others." A court may award punitive damages only if the conduct was malicious, wanton, reckless, willful, or oppressive. The proper focus is on "the act itself together with all the circumstances including the motive of the wrongdoer and the relations between the parties . . . ." In addition, the actor's state of mind is relevant. The act or omission must be intentional, reckless, or malicious.