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Gerundo v. AT&T Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 28, 2016

JOHN GERUNDO, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T SERVICES, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SCHMEHL, J.

         Plaintiff brought this action, claiming he was placed on surplus status by his former employer, defendant AT&T Services, Inc., because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-629 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 951. After the Court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment, the case was tried to the Court sitting with a jury. After a five-day trial, the jury found, as indicated on the verdict form, that plaintiff had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that his age was the determining factor in the decision to surplus his employment in connection with a reduction in force. (ECF 91.) The jury awarded plaintiff $288, 000.00 in back pay and $135, 000.00 in front pay. (Id.).The jury further found that defendant had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that plaintiff did not exercise reasonable diligence in his efforts to secure substantially equivalent employment and, as a result, deducted $53, 000.00 from the award of front pay, leaving a total front pay award of $82, 000.00. (Id.) Finally, the jury found that plaintiff had failed to prove that defendant either knew or showed reckless disregard for whether its conduct was prohibited by the age discrimination law. (Id.) The Court then entered a judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendant in the amount of $370, 000.00. (ECF 87.) Presently before the Court is the renewed motion of the plaintiff for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion for judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) “should be granted 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” for the non-movant. Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993); Mandile v. Clark Material Handling Co., 131 Fed.Appx. 836, 838 (3d Cir. 2005).

         In making this determination, “the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version.” Lightning Lube, 4 F.3d at 1166 (citing Fineman v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 980 F.2d 171, 190 (3d Cir. 1992)).

         “The question is not whether there is literally no evidence supporting the party against whom the motion is directed but whether there is evidence upon which the jury could properly find a verdict for that party.” Id. (quoting Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841, 846 (3d Cir. 2004) (“A judge may overturn a jury verdict only when, as a matter of law, the record is critically deficient of that minimum quantity of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief.”)(quotations omitted)).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff requests that the Court enter judgment as a matter of law for liquidated damages in the amount of $288, 000. Specifically, plaintiff argues that “[b]ecause the jury found that Defendants intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff based on his age, and because . . . Defendants' witnesses who were involved in the employment decision at issue admitted that they were aware of the law that prohibits age discrimination (including that consideration of age in an employment decision is illegal), Plaintiff should have been awarded liquidated damages as a matter of law.” (ECF 104 at p. 5.)(emphasis in original). Plaintiff further asserts that “[t]he fact that Question No. 5 was included on the Verdict Form for the jury to consider was a signal to the jury that there had to be additional evidence to find that Defendants ‘either knew or showed reckless disregard for whether their conduct was prohibited by the age discrimination law.'” (Id. at p.9.) According to the plaintiff, “[t]he inclusion of that question on the Verdict Form would lead the jury to conclude that the evidence which the jury considered in reaching its conclusion that Defendants intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff based on his age . . . was not sufficient for the jury to answer ‘Yes' to Question No. 5 (but without any guidance as to what else might be needed.)” (Id.)

         Liquidated, or double, damages are available where the employer engaged in a willful violation of the ADEA. 29 U.S.C. 626(b). A liquidated damages award doubles the plaintiff's back pay award but is punitive in nature. Starceski v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 54 F.3d 1089, 1102 (3d Cir. 1995). An employer willfully violates the ADEA where it acts with knowing or reckless disregard as to whether its conduct was prohibited by the ADEA. Hazen Paper Co. v. Biggins, 507 U.S. 604, 614 (1993).

         Question 1 of the Verdict Form read as follows:

1. Has Plaintiff proven by a preponderance of the evidence that his age was the determining factor (i.e. the ‘but-for' cause) in the decision to surplus his employment as a Service Executive in connection with the reduction in force?
Yes of No ________ Yes ___________
Question 5 of the Verdict Form read as follows:
5. Did Plaintiff, John Gerundo, prove by a preponderance of the evidence that AT&T either knew or showed reckless disregard for whether its conduct was prohibited ...

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