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Edward M. Supinski v. United Parcel Service

July 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)


Presently before the Court is Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc.'s ("UPS") post-trial Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial Pursuant to Rules 50 & 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 322.) Because Plaintiff Edward Supinski ("Supinski") provided sufficient evidence in support of his Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") failure to accommodate and retaliation claims, UPS' motion for judgment as a matter of law will be denied. And, because the jury's verdict was not against the weight of the evidence, Supinski's counsel did not make it reasonably probable that the verdict was influenced by improper conduct, and the Court's evidentiary rulings were not erroneous or prejudicial, UPS' request for a new trial will be denied.

I. Background

As the parties have already been through a trial on this matter, only a brief recount of the factual events necessary to the resolution of the instant motion will be provided. Supinski worked at UPS starting in 1979. In October of 2000, while working as a Package Car Driver, he sustained a work-related massive cuff tear in his right shoulder that required him to undergo surgery and physical therapy. On October 4, 2001, Supinski's doctor approved his return to work, but with permanent restrictions: he could only lift seventy pounds to waist level, twenty-five pounds to shoulder level, and twenty pounds overhead.

These restrictions prevented Supinski from returning to his position as Package Car Driver, but he continued to seek employment with UPS through his union. In November of 2002, UPS notified Supinski that it had concluded he was not eligible for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. He then filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and PHRC. On November 18, 2003, the PHRC issued a finding of "No Probable Cause," concluding that "the investigation did not establish the legal requirements for disability under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) or the Pennsylvania Fair Educational Opportunities Act (PFEOA)."

Supinski continued to seek employment with UPS. At some point prior to May of 2005, he applied for a Feeder Driver position, and in July of 2006, he applied for a Car Washer/Unloader position. UPS did not hire him for the positions, determining that he could not satisfy the essential job functions (i.e., heavy lifting) of either job and that he did not have a disability.

Supinski filed suit against UPS in March of 2006, asserting claims for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation under the PHRA, then adding similar claims under the ADA. Supinski filed a second suit in February 2008 based on the failure to hire him for the Car Washer/Unloader position; the two actions were consolidated.

The case proceeded to trial in February of 2012 on the PHRA and ADA claims. On February 17, 2012, a jury found that UPS failed to accommodate Supinski and retaliated against him in violation of the ADA and PHRA. The jury awarded Supinski $280,000 in compensatory damages. UPS was ordered to reinstate Supinski, restore his pension to what it would have been if not for its conduct, and to provide him with back pay in the amount of $342,798.40. UPS reinstated Supinski on March 20, 2012. Thereafter, UPS filed the instant post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, for a new trial. UPS' motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standards

A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

To prevail on a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must establish that there was no "legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found for [the prevailing party] on that issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). In deciding whether to grant a Rule 50(b) renewed judgment as a matter of law motion: the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and determine whether the record contains "the minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief." The court may not weigh evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses or substitute its version of the facts for that of the jury. The court may, however, enter judgment notwithstanding the verdict if upon review of the record, it can be said as a matter of law that the verdict is not supported by legally sufficient evidence.

Parkway Garage, Inc. v. City of Phila., 5 F.3d 685, 691--92 (3d Cir. 1993), abrogation on other grounds recognized by United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc. v. Twp. of Warrington, 316 F.3d 392 (3d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

A court may grant judgment as a matter of law "only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability." LePage's Inc. v. 3M, 324 F.3d 141, 145--46 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993)). The question is not whether there is literally no evidence supporting the non-moving party, but whether there is evidence upon which the jury could properly find for the non-moving party. See Walter v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 985 F.2d 1232, 1238 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841, 846 (3d Cir. 1978)).

B. Motion for New Trial

"The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). The decision whether to grant a new trial following a jury verdict is within the sound discretion of the trial court. See Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36, 101 S. Ct. 188, 66 L. Ed. 2d 193 (1980); Blancha v. Raymark Indus., 972 F.2d 507, 512 (3d Cir. 1992). Courts have granted motions for a new trial where: "(1) there is a significant error of law, to the prejudice of the moving party; (2) the verdict is against the weight of the evidence; (3) the size of the verdict is against the weight of the evidence; or (4) counsel engaged in improper conduct that had a prejudicial effect on the jury." Todd v. Luzerne Cnty. Children & Youth Servs., No. 04-2637, 2011 WL 841429, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 8, 2011) (citing Maylie v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 791 F.Supp. 477, 480 (E.D. Pa. 1992), aff'd 983 F.2d 1051 (3d Cir.1992)). Where the evidence is in conflict, however, and subject to two or more interpretations, the trial judge should be reluctant to grant a new trial. See Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1295 (3d Cir.1993).

III. Discussion

Defendant's motion raises two legal theories. First, UPS argues that it is entitled to Judgment as a Matter of Law. Alternatively, UPS asserts that it should be granted a new trial. These arguments will be addressed in turn.

A. Renewed Judgment as a Matter of Law

During the trial, UPS raised Rule 50 motions for judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim and his retaliation claim. (Trial Tr., Feb. 14, 2012 P.M. Session, 3:2-6:19.) Therefore, pursuant to Rule 50(b), the Court may now reconsider the legal questions raised by those arguments.

1. Failure to Accommodate

To establish a prima facie failure to accommodate case under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213, the plaintiff must prove "'(1) he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) he is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodations by the employer; and (3) he has suffered an otherwise adverse employment decision as a result of discrimination' ... [which] in this context include[s] refusing to make reasonable accommodations for a plaintiff's disabilities." Hohider v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 574 F.3d 169, 186-87 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Williams v. Phila. Housing Auth. Police Dep't, 380 F.3d 751, 761 (3d Cir.2004)).

As such, to prevail under the ADA, Supinski was required to establish that he was a "qualified individual with a disability." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The ADA defines "qualified individual with a disability" as "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8). The ADA defines "disability" with regard to an individual as either: (i) "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such [an] individual"; (ii) "a record of such an impairment"; or (iii) "being regarded as having such an impairment." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2).

Here, Supinski's lone theory of liability for his failure to accommodate claim was that UPS ...

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