January 14, 1997
Currently before this Court is the timely post-trial motion of plaintiff Benjamin Nissim to alter or amend the judgment and enter an award of back pay damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), or, in the alternative, grant a new trial on the issue of damages pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) (Document No. 75), and response thereto.
For the following reasons, I will deny the motion of plaintiff.
Plaintiff brought an action against defendant McNeil Consumer Products Company, Inc. ("McNeil"), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 954 ("PHRA") seeking damages for alleged discrimination in employment on account of race, religion, or national origin and for retaliatory discharge.
Prior to the close of the jury trial, plaintiff withdrew his claim under the PHRA as well as his claims for reinstatement, front pay, and punitive damages. The case was tried before a jury from December 2, 1996 through December 6, 1996. On December 9, 1996, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant on the claim for discrimination and in favor of plaintiff on the claim for retaliatory discharge. However, the jury found that plaintiff suffered no damages caused by the retaliatory discharge, and thus did not award plaintiff any back pay or compensatory damages.
Plaintiff contends that the judgment should be altered or amended to accurately reflect the effect of the jury's finding of retaliation. Specifically, plaintiff claims that back pay damages should be awarded.
In the alternative, plaintiff requests that this Court order a new trial on the damage issue alone. Defendant argues that the jury verdict is not inconsistent with the evidentiary record, and thus should not be disturbed. The defendant also asserts that, should this Court grant a new trial, the case should be retried for both liability and damages.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Rule 59(e) allows parties to file a motion "that questions the correctness of the judgment . . . ." New Castle County v. Hartford Accident & Indem. Co., 933 F.2d 1162, 1176 (3d Cir. 1991). Under Rule 59(e), a party must rely on one of three grounds: (1) new evidence not previously available, (2) intervening change in controlling law, or (3) need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. Smith v. City of Chester, 155 F.R.D. 95, 96-97 (E.D. Pa. 1994). Plaintiff neither offers new evidence nor claims that there has been a change in controlling law. Rather, the contentions of plaintiff are grounded in the third prong. Specifically, plaintiff claims that the jury finding of liability for retaliatory discharge but its failure to award damages is "unjust and anomalous." Plaintiff's Mem. at 4.
Courts should not disturb jury verdicts "absent exigent circumstances such as a case of manifest and extreme abuse of the jury's function." Pearsall v. Emhart Indus., Inc., 599 F. Supp. 207, 211 (E.D. Pa. 1984) (citing Bruce Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. v. Universal C.I.T. Credit Corp., 325 F.2d 2, 21-22 (3d Cir. 1963)). "In reviewing the propriety of a jury verdict, [this Court's] obligation is to uphold the jury's award if there exists a reasonable basis to do so." Motter v. Everest & Jennings, Inc., 883 F.2d 1223, 1230 (3d Cir. 1989); see also Bruce Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. v. Universal C.I.T. Credit Corp., 325 F.2d 2, 21 (3d Cir. 1963); Brandy v. Flamboyant Inv. Co., 26 V.I. 384, 772 F. Supp. 1538, 1541 (D.V.I. 1991). Accordingly, I must search the record for any evidence which could have reasonably led the jury to reach its verdict, drawing all reasonable inference in favor of the verdict winner. Blum v. Witco Chem. Corp., 829 F.2d 367, 372 (3d Cir. 1987) (citing Massarsky v. General Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 117 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 937, 78 L. Ed. 2d 314, 104 S. Ct. 348 (1983)).
The ostensible favor of courts toward the verdict winner and the reluctance of courts to tamper with the jury verdict is essential for the purpose of preserving the integrity of the jury system and abiding by the Seventh Amendment constitutional right to a jury trial, a right that plaintiff himself exercised here by requesting a jury trial and by further agreeing that a back pay award be determined by the jury, and not this Court.
Now, when the back pay award did not result in his favor, plaintiff urges this Court to overturn the jury verdict. I decline to do so as there is no "clear error of law" or "manifest injustice" present here.
Plaintiff has cited no case or statute, and I have found none, that mandates the award of back pay damages upon a finding of retaliatory discharge.
Therefore, there is no clear error of law here sufficient to disturb the jury verdict. I will next consider whether the jury verdict constitutes a "manifest injustice."
After review of the record, I find that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could reasonably have concluded that plaintiff suffered no damages, and thus not award back pay. The evidence shows that plaintiff went through a difficult divorce during the last year of his employment at McNeil and was unruly and disruptive on the job. Consequently, plaintiff received a mandatory referral to the Employee Assistance Program ("EAP") in mid-January 1993 to help correct his behavioral and performance problems at work. Testimony of Mark New at 28-29
; Stipulation of Facts P 3; Defendant's Exhibit No. 8-60. Mark New, former Director of Human Resources at McNeil, testified that mandatory referral is for instances involving severe inappropriate behavior whereby continued employment is contingent upon employee improvement and the employee following the recommendations of the EAP. Testimony of Mark New at 28-29. The jury could reasonably have been persuaded by the testimony of several witnesses and various exhibits that plaintiff's conduct showed no sign of improvement while in the EAP. For example, plaintiff failed to regularly attend various meetings required for Production Control personnel, and when he did attend, he did not participate in the meetings in any constructive manner. Defendant's Exhibit Nos. 8-29, 8-30, 8-66. His colleagues continued to complain of his uncooperative conduct and poor performance. Defendant's Exhibit Nos. 8-24, 8-25, 8-47, 8-54, 8-55, 8-66. In one incident, plaintiff did not follow proper procedure when he released the access code to the computer system, and in a subsequent meeting, he denied having released the access code. Testimony of Maureen Koval at 16; Defendant's Exhibit Nos. 8-38, 8-54. Because plaintiff's conduct and performance did not improve, defendant issued him a Final Warning letter on April 2, 1993, which stated in pertinent part:
The next incident in which you miss a scheduled meeting or are late to a scheduled meeting without a reasonable excuse or display hostile and unprofessional behavior to your co-workers either in a meeting or day to day contact, I will have no alternative but to recommend further disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.