The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM STANDISH, Senior District Judge
Pending before the Court is a motion for a new trial by
Plaintiff Margaret Barbish*fn1 (Docket No. 66). For the
reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion is denied.
The facts giving rise to this case are well-known to the
parties and will not be reiterated in detail here. Briefly
stated, Margaret Barbish was employed as Director of Human
Resources for the Green Tree Marriott Hotel ("Marriott") at the
time the hotel was purchased by Defendant American Property Management Corporation ("APMC") in August 1999. As part of the
purchase agreement between APMC and Marriott's parent company,
Interstate Hotels Corporation ("Interstate"), the salaries of
hotel staff who were expected to continue with APMC (including
Ms. Barbish) were not to be increased between signing of the
purchase agreement and closing of the sale. Nevertheless, the
Marriott hotel manager increased Ms. Barbish's annual salary from
$72,582 to $76,211 the day before the transition took place.
Soon after the change in ownership, Marriott's new general
manager, Roland Sardaczuk, discovered the salary increase and
reduced Ms. Barbish's salary to the amount she received prior to
the sale. In September 1999, Ms. Barbish informed the hotel
payroll department that her salary check did not include the car
allowance she previously received from Interstate. Although she
did not submit any paperwork to support this claim, the payroll
office confirmed that she had indeed been receiving an annual
allowance of $7,440 and increased her paycheck accordingly.
Several months later, when Mr. Sardaczuk noticed that the human
resources department was over budget, he discovered the increase
in Ms. Barbish's salary as a result of the car allowance. He met
with her and told her that she would have to forego the
allowance; she protested that she was entitled to it because it
had been in place prior to the sale. The dispute was referred to
APMC managers at corporate headquarters who demanded that she return to her original salary of $72,582, give up the
car allowance, and repay $5,108, the amount she had been overpaid
after APMC acquired the hotel. When Ms. Barbish objected, APMC
management said they had "lost confidence in her" and asked for
her resignation. After a few days to consider, Plaintiff advised
APMC that she would not resign. Her employment was terminated
that day on the grounds that she had given herself an
unauthorized pay increase in the form of the car allowance.
Ms. Barbish filed suit, claiming that Defendants had violated
the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29, U.S.C. § 621 et
seq. (ADEA), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. § 951
et seq. ("PHRA"), and the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and
Collection Law, 43 P.S. § 260.1 et seq. ("WPCL.") She also
brought common law claims of intentional infliction of emotional
distress and defamation. The latter claim was based on her
allegation that shortly after she was fired in April 2000, Mr.
Sardaczuk had told hotel staff she was let go because she was a
thief as shown by the fact she had given herself an unauthorized
Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. Plaintiff
failed to respond to their motion with respect to the WPCL and
intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, and
therefore the Court entered summary judgment in favor of
Defendants on those two counts without discussion. (Docket No. 34.) Summary judgment was denied with regard to Plaintiff's ADEA,
PHRA, and defamation claims and her husband's loss of consortium
On January 26, 2005, following a five-day trial, the jury
returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff with regard to her
defamation claim only. As stated on the Special Verdict Form, the
jury affirmatively found
by a preponderance of the evidence that [Defendants']
employees . . . published defamatory statements to
third persons about plaintiff, . . . which statements
resulted in "actual harm" to plaintiff.
(Special Verdict Form, Docket No. 63, question 6.)
The jury awarded Ms. Barbish $14,000 as "damages directly
resulting from publication of defamatory statements about her."
(Special Verdict Form, question 7.) However, it did not find
Defendants' employees acted with "actual malice" in making those
derogatory statements and so did not award any punitive damages.
(Special Verdict Form, Docket No. 64, questions 1 and 2.)
On February 10, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Motion for a New Trial.
In her motion, Ms. Barbish raises three arguments: (1) the
damages awarded by the jury at trial are insufficient and/or
against the clear weight of the evidence; (2) the inadequate
award was the result of jury confusion or compromise; and (3) the
inadequate award resulted from improper argument of Defendants'
counsel at closing. She does not argue with the jury's decision
regarding punitive damages. We have considered each of Plaintiff's arguments in turn and find none of them persuasive.
II. STANDARD FOR GRANTING A MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL
In pertinent part, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)
A new trial may be granted to all or any of the
parties and on all or part of the issues in an action
in which there has been a trial by jury, for any of
the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been