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Payne v. University of Southern Mississippi

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

March 27, 2015

THOMAS PAYNE, Plaintiff,


KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion [205] to alter or amend the judgment.


The Court provided the factual background of this case in a Memorandum Opinion and Order [147] entered on February 21, 2014. See Payne v. Univ. of S. Miss., No. 1:12-CV-41-KS-MTP, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22052 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 21, 2014). On May 12-16, 2014, the Court presided over the jury trial in this matter. On May 16, 2014, after the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a). The Court granted the motion in a bench ruling and entered a Final Judgment [195] in Defendants' favor. On June 16, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion [205] to alter or amend the Final Judgment, which the Court now considers.


"A Rule 59(e) motion calls into question the correctness of a judgment." Templet v. Hydrochem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 478 (5th Cir. 2004). "[S]uch a motion is not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment. Rather, Rule 59(e) serves the narrow purpose of allowing a party to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Id. It is "an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly." Id. "[A]mending a judgment is appropriate (1) where there has been an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) where the movant presents newly discovered evidence that was previously unavailable; or (3) to correct a manifest error of law or fact." Demahy v. Schwarz Pharma., Inc., 702 F.3d 177, 182 (5th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff's Motion [205] is limited to the third option: manifest errors of law and fact.


Plaintiff argues that they Court, in granting Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, committed errors of law and fact. First, Plaintiff argues that the Court applied the incorrect causation standard to his Title VII retaliation claim. Second, Plaintiff argues that he presented sufficient evidence during his case-in-chief to survive Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law.

A. Causation Standard Applicable to Title VII Retaliation

To prove a Title VII retaliation claim at trial, a plaintiff must prove that he would not have been subjected to the adverse action but for his protected activity. Vadie v. Miss. State Univ., 218 F.3d 365, 374 (5th Cir. 2000); see also Ellerbrook v. City of Lubbock, 465 F.Appx. 324, 330-31 (5th Cir. 2012) (at trial, "the ultimate determination is whether, but for the protected conduct, the employer would not have engaged in the adverse employment action."). The basis of the Court's ruling was that Plaintiff provided insufficient evidence of a causal link between his protected activity and Defendants' adverse action. In other words, the Court held that Plaintiff failed to prove that Defendant's actions were, in fact, retaliatory.

Plaintiff argues that the Court committed a legal error by relying on the causation standard from Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, 530 U.S. 133, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000), an ADEA discrimination case.[1] The Court relied upon the Supreme Court's discussion of the burden of proof regarding causation in pretext cases:

Proof that the defendant's explanation is unworthy of credence is simply one form of circumstantial evidence that is probative of intentional discrimination, and it may be quite persuasive. In appropriate circumstances, the trier of fact can reasonably infer from the falsity of the explanation that the employer is dissembling to cover up a discriminatory purpose. Such an inference is consistent with the general principle of evidence law that the factfinder is entitled to consider a party's dishonesty about a material fact as affirmative evidence of guilt. Moreover, once the employer's justification has been eliminated, discrimination may well be the most likely alternative explanation, especially since the employer is in the best position to put forth the actual reason for its decision. Thus, a plaintiff's prima facie case, combined with sufficient evidence to find that the employer's asserted justification is false, may permit the trier of fact to conclude that the employer unlawfully discriminated.

This is not to say that such a showing by the plaintiff will always be adequate to sustain a jury's finding of liability. Certainly there will be instances where, although the plaintiff has established a prima facie case and set forth sufficient evidence to reject the defendant's explanation, no rational factfinder could conclude that the action was discriminatory. For instance, an employer would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the record conclusively revealed some other, nondiscriminatory reason for the employer's decision, or if the plaintiff created only a weak issue of fact as to whether the employer's reason was untrue and there was abundant and uncontroverted independent evidence that no discrimination had occurred. To hold otherwise would be effectively to insulate an entire category of employment discrimination cases from review under Rule 50, and we have reiterated that trial courts should not treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact.

Id. at 147-49 (citations and punctuation omitted). Relying on this language, the Court concluded that Plaintiff had presented insufficient evidence to support a jury's finding that 1) there was a causal link between Plaintiff's protected activity and Defendants' adverse actions; and 2) Defendants' ...

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