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BURKS v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

August 26, 1997

VALORIE BURKS, et al.
v.
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA and RICHARD SCOTT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE

 BECHTLE, J.

 AUGUST 26, 1997

 Presently before the court are Defendant Richard Scott's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, and separate motions for attorney's fees and costs filed by Plaintiffs and Defendants. For the reasons stated below, Scott's motion will be granted in part and denied in part, Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees will be granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' motion for attorney's fees will be denied.

 I. BACKGROUND

 This case involves a variety of claims alleging that Scott made racially discriminatory employment decisions while he was Director of the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office ("AACO") of the City of Philadelphia in 1993 and 1994. *fn1" Plaintiffs *fn2" are eight African-Americans who applied for AACO positions or worked at AACO under Scott, who is white.

 On March 21, 1995, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint setting forth claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. *fn3" At a hearing in December 1996, Plaintiffs informed the court and opposing counsel that they were pursuing the following specific claims:

 1. Burks, Mills, Sewell, and Young claimed discrimination regarding the temporary appointment of Kevin Green ("Green") to Public Health Program Analysis Supervisor -- AIDS (Counseling and Testing) ("C&T Supervisor").

 2. Burks, Hodges, Mills, and Sewell claimed discrimination regarding the permanent appointment of Green to C&T Supervisor.

 3. Burks and Young claimed discrimination regarding the appointment of Jennifer Kolker ("Kolker") to a contract position that included at least some of the duties of the Director of Policy and Planning (the "Kolker position").

 4. Sewell claimed discrimination regarding her denial of the job of Public Health Program Analyst ("Program Analyst").

 5. Valentine claimed discrimination regarding his assignment as a Program Analyst at the AACO prison unit on the ground that the duties he was given were different from those given to other Program Analysts.

 7. Roberts claimed discrimination on the ground that he was stripped of subordinates and work responsibilities and that his project initiatives were repeatedly halted or rejected.

 8. Hodges claimed discrimination regarding an attempt to transfer her from a position at a health center to the AACO prison unit.

 9. Burks, Mills, Robb, Roberts, and Young claimed that they were subjected to a hostile work environment.

 Plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees, and reinstatement of their previous positions, where applicable. Throughout the case, Scott denied the allegations, asserting that he chose the most qualified persons for each job and never treated Plaintiffs differently from similarly situated white persons.

 After a year of discovery, on December 30, 1996, the court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Title VI claims and Hodges' attempted transfer claim. Burks v. City of Philadelphia, 950 F. Supp. 678 (E.D. Pa. 1996). On January 31, 1997, the court granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Plaintiffs had not proven that the alleged discrimination was pursuant to a municipal custom or policy. Burks v. City of Philadelphia, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 938, No. 95-1636, 1996 WL 45031 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 31, 1997).

 The case was called for trial on April 25, 1997. After Plaintiffs offered their evidence, Scott moved for judgment as a matter of law on all claims. The court granted the motion only as to the permanent C&T Supervisor job and punitive damages claims. *fn4" On May 22, 1997, after thirteen days of testimony and argument, the jury began deliberations. The next day, it returned a verdict in favor of Scott on the claims regarding the Kolker and Program Analyst positions and on Valentine's claim. As to the temporary C&T Supervisor position, the jury found that Scott intentionally discriminated against Burks and Young on the basis of their race, and awarded them $ 5,000 each for emotional distress and Young an additional $ 6,000 for lost earnings. The jury also found in favor of Robb and Roberts on their claims and awarded them $ 5,000 each for emotional distress. The Judgments were entered on May 27, 1997.

 On June 10, 1997, Scott filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), seeking to set aside the jury's verdict as to the claims of Burks, Young, Robb, and Roberts. Plaintiffs and Defendants also moved under Rule 54(d) for attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Additionally, Defendants moved for attorney's fees from Plaintiffs' counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. The parties have filed responses and supplemental briefs supporting their respective positions, and the motions are ripe for determination.

 II. SCOTT'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

 Scott's Rule 50(b) motion seeks to set aside the jury's verdict on all issues resolved adversely to him. The motion is based on three grounds. First, he argues that Robb and Roberts did not establish prima facie cases of employment discrimination. Second, Scott contends that there was no basis for the jury to infer that his proffered nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment decisions were a pretext for intentional race discrimination. Third, he asserts that the compensatory damages awards to Robb, Roberts, Young, and Burks should be vacated because they are too speculative, and because Burks' award cannot be traced to Scott's discrimination. Plaintiffs respond to these arguments in a fifty-three page brief with extensive references to the testimony at trial.

 A. The Applicable Legal Standard

 
'Such a motion should be granted only if, in viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability. In determining whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain liability, the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version.'

 McDaniels v. Flick, 59 F.3d 446, 453 (3d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1146, 134 L. Ed. 2d 97, 116 S. Ct. 1017 (1996) (quoting Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993)) (citations omitted). A court may grant a Rule 50(b) motion only when, "without weighing the credibility of the evidence, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the proper judgment." 5A James W. Moore, Federal Practice and Procedure P 50.07[2], at 50-76 (2d ed.) (footnote omitted). To prevail on such a motion, however, the moving party must have moved for judgment as a matter of law before the close of all of the evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

 B. Prima Facie Cases of Employment Discrimination

 The parties agree that to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) he or she is a member of a protected class; (2) he or she performed the job satisfactorily; (3) the employee suffered a material adverse employment action; and (4) a similarly situated non-member of the protected class was treated more favorably. The first two elements are not in dispute. Scott argues only that Roberts and Robb did not satisfy the third and fourth elements. (Def.'s Mem. Supp. J. as a Matter of Law at 3-14.)

 1. James Roberts and Linda Robb

 A reasonable jury could have interpreted the evidence at trial as follows. Roberts was in charge of AACO's Education and Prevention Unit, and Robb managed the AIDS Agency Services Unit (later named the Care Services Unit) when Scott became the agency's Director. Robb, Roberts, and managers of the other AACO units comprised the agency's senior staff, which met weekly with the Director to discuss policy issues and other important agency matters.

 During the relevant time period, Scott transferred Roberts' responsibility for an adolescent prevention program for the Philadelphia schools to an organization operated by white persons. He stripped Roberts of his responsibility over training in counseling and testing of several community-based organizations, and gave those duties to Green, a white male. He reassigned to Green two of Roberts' subordinates, at least on a part-time basis. He moved Roberts' office to a place where he could not have private meetings. Scott also abruptly halted or rejected several education initiatives and programs that Roberts had developed, and refused to let Roberts attend senior staff meetings beginning in October 1994.

 At the same time, Scott stripped Robb of her secretary, supervisory responsibility, contract monitoring responsibility, and participation in senior staff meetings. Robb repeatedly requested a clarification of her duties, but never received a meaningful response. Scott prohibited her from providing African-American community-based organizations with funding information. He ordered Robb to train Green and said he would hold her responsible for Green's mistakes. He also moved her office to a less private area and, on one occasion, falsely told her that she was "hated by the minority community."

 Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Robb and Roberts, it is clear that Scott successfully eliminated all of the significant responsibilities from these unit managers. Not only did he strip Robb and Roberts of substantive job duties, he humiliated them in front of their peers by treating them as if they were rank-and-file AACO staff members. There is no question that there was substantial evidence from which the jury could conclude that Scott stripped Robb ...


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