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Shollenbarger v. Planes Moving & Storage

September 27, 2006

LINDA SHOLLENBARGER, ET. AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
PLANES MOVING & STORAGE, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hogan, M. J.

ORDER

Plaintiffs, four of Defendant's former employees, initiated this action in February 2003 by filing a complaint in which they asserted claims for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e, et seq., and Ohio Revised Code ("O.R.C.") § 4112. Plaintiffs alleged that Defendant terminated their employment, ostensibly as part of a reduction in force ("RIF") in September and October 2001, in a manner that was either intentionally or effectively discriminatory. In addition, plaintiffs Davidson and Shollenbarger asserted claims for age discrimination, arguing that their terminations from employment and defendant's decision to deny them transfer opportunities while younger, less qualified persons were retained, violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et. seq.

Defendant moved for summary judgment as to all plaintiffs' claims. In an order issued by the District Court on February 22, 2005, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendant's motions. The claims which subsequently proceeded to trial were all plaintiffs' claims of discriminatory discharge on the basis of sex in the context of defendant's reduction in force (RIF), and plaintiffs' disparate treatment sex discrimination claims related to defendant's failure to permit plaintiffs to transfer out of the departments targeted for discharges as part of the RIF ("Affected Departments"). The District Court also denied summary judgment as to plaintiff Davidson's claim of discriminatory discharge based on age asserted under the ADEA.

This matter came before this Court for a sixteen-day jury trial commencing October 31, 2005.*fn1 Following the close of plaintiffs' evidence, this Court granted defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff Davidson's claim of age discrimination. (Doc. 121). Following the close of all the evidence in the case, the Court granted defendant's motions for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' disparate impact sex discrimination claims. (Doc. 136). The case was submitted to the jury on November 22, 2005. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant on all plaintiffs' remaining claims, and the Court entered final judgment consistent therewith. (Docs. 132, 133, 137).

Plaintiffs' Motion for a New Trial

Now the case comes before this Court on plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, defendant's memorandum in opposition, and plaintiffs' reply. (Docs. 140, 141, 142). Also before the Court are plaintiff's motion for a hearing and oral argument on plaintiffs' motion for a new trial, and plaintiffs' motion to supplement their memorandum in support of their motion for a new trial. (Docs. 143, 144). For the reasons set forth more fully below, plaintiffs' motion for a new trial will be denied.

Plaintiffs argue that the Court should grant a new trial because the Court erred by granting defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law as to plaintiffs' disparate impact claims, and because the dismissal of the disparate impact claims unfairly prejudiced the jury's consideration of plaintiffs' disparate treatment claims. Plaintiffs also argue that the age discrimination claims asserted by plaintiffs Shollenbarger and Davidson presented triable issues of fact and therefore should not have been determined as a matter of law. In their supplemental memorandum, plaintiffs cite the Court to Connecticut v. Teal, 457 U.S. 440 (1982), in support of their assertion that the Court erred by granting defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiffs' disparate impact claims. Plaintiffs state that "'bottom line' percentage results do not preclude employees from establishing a prima facie case of disparate impact where a significant component part of the selection process shows a disparate impact." (Doc. 143).

Defendant contends that the Court properly granted judgment as a matter of law with respect to plaintiffs' disparate impact claims. Defendants also argue that plaintiff Shollenbarger's age discrimination claim was properly dismissed by the District Court pursuant to defendant's summary judgment motion. Likewise, defendant asserts that the Court properly granted judgment as a matter of law with respect to plaintiff Davidson's age discrimination claim. Defendant fails to directly address plaintiffs' argument that the dismissal of her disparate impact claims had a prejudicial effect on the jury's consideration of their disparate treatment claims. The implication is, however, that no such prejudice resulted from the Court's proper grant of defendant's motions.

Legal Standard

Plaintiffs state in their motion that they move for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. However, neither party addresses the applicable legal standard.

Rule 59 provides in part that:

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 granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States . . . . Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a). The decision whether or not to grant a new trial is within the trial court's discretion. Anchor v. O'Toole, 94 F.3d 1014, 1021 (6th Cir. 1996). Under Rule 59, courts have generally interpreted the rule to allow a new trial when the jury has reached a "seriously erroneous result" such as where (1) the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) damages are excessive; or (3) the trial was unfair to the moving party in some fashion, such as a substantial error of law that resulted in bias or prejudice. Kusens v. Pascal Company, Inc., 448 F.3d 349, 367 & n.13 (6th Cir. 2006); Holmes v. City of Massillion, 78 F.3d 1041, 1045-46 (6th Cir. 1996).

When presented with a motion for new trial based on the grounds that the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, the district court must compare the opposing proofs, weigh the evidence, and set aside the verdict only if it believes that the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence. J.C. Wykoff & Assoc. v. Standard Fire Ins. Co., 936 F.2d 1474, 1487 (6th Cir. 1991). However, even though the court may reweigh the evidence on a motion for a new trial, it may not set aside the jury verdict merely because it draws different inferences or conclusions or because a different result is more reasonable. Holmes, 78 F.3d at 1048. Thus, the Court must uphold the verdict if it could reasonably have been reached. Id. "New trials are not to be granted on the grounds that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence unless the verdict was unreasonable." Barnes v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., 201 F.3d 815, 820-21 (6th Cir. 2000)(internal quotations omitted).

When a Rule 59 motion is premised upon the assertion that the trial was unfair to the moving party in some fashion, the motion will not be granted absent a showing that the proceedings were influenced by prejudice or bias. Kusens, 448 F.3d at n.13. The burden of showing prejudice is on the party ...


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