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Bogan v. MTD Consumer Group, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

September 18, 2017

SHEANETER J. BOGAN PLAINTIFF
v.
MTD CONSUMER GROUP, INC. DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Sharion Aycock UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The present action was tried by a jury, and final judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff Sheaneter Bogan on her claim of race and gender discrimination. The jury awarded damages of $1.00. Plaintiff filed Motions to Alter or Amend Judgment [97, 99], and Defendant filed a Cross-Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [101].

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Bogan, a former employee in MTD's Tool and Die department, proceeded to trial before a jury against MTD, alleging that she was terminated in violation of Title VII's race and gender discrimination prohibition. At the close of Bogan's case-in-chief, MTD moved for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). The Court denied the motion, finding that the evidence created a factual issue as to whether MTD discriminated against Bogan. The jury was instructed to determine liability as well as compensatory damages and back pay. Ultimately, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bogan and awarded damages in the amount of $1.00.

         Following the verdict and award, MTD filed the present Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, Alternatively, for New Trial, arguing that the evidence was insufficient as to find liability. Bogan filed Motions to Alter or Amend the Judgment, arguing that she is entitled to back pay and either reinstatement or front pay under the statute.

         Defendant's Rule 50 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) allows a defendant to file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law following a verdict for the plaintiff. Judgment as a matter of law is warranted under Rule 50 if “a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have had a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). The standard under Rule 50 “mirrors” the standard for summary judgment under Rule 56 “such that the inquiry under each is the same.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing, 530 U.S. 133, 150, 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000) (internal quotation and citation omitted). When ruling on a Rule 50 motion, the Court must “view the trial evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, making all reasonable and factual inferences and credibility assessments in the nonmovant's favor.” Illinois Cent. R.R. Co. v. Guy, 682 F.3d 381, 393 (5th Cir. 2012). The Court must uphold the verdict unless “the facts and inferences point ‘so strongly and overwhelmingly in the movant's favor that reasonable jurors could not reach a contrary conclusion.'” Flowers v. S. Reg'l Physical Servs. Inc., 247 F.3d 229, 235 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Omnitech Int'l, Inc. v. Clorox Co., 11 F.3d 1316, 1322 (5th Cir. 1994)).

         At trial, many of the same factual issues persisted that were apparent during the pretrial motion phase. For example, whether Plaintiff had been replaced by a white male was still unclear. First, Barry Ledbetter, the day shift manager, testified that when Plaintiff was placed on the wire machine because of her successful bid, the company also assigned the same machine to John Trammel, a white male employee. This was true even though the machine was typically a “one-person” machine. Therefore, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant was discriminatory in assigning Trammel the secondary duties in the first place. Plaintiff argued that even though Trammel was already trained in Plaintiff's position, he was initially positioned on this machine by the Defendant so that that the Defendant could terminate Plaintiff and then smoothly continue operation afterwards. Conversely, Defendant alleged that because Trammel was already assigned to that machine, he does not qualify as a replacement for Plaintiff.

         Second, Ledbetter also testified that employees regularly took more than thirty-minutes for lunch breaks in the Tool and Die department, even though employees from the other departments adhered to the employee handbook rules more strictly. Therefore, Plaintiff argued that because others were allowed to take longer lunch breaks without reprimand, she was treated less favorably than her mostly white male coworkers when she was written up and then terminated for doing so.

         Plaintiff also posed substantial evidence regarding deviations from disciplinary procedures, testimony about Plaintiff's absences from work, and the history of preferential treatment at MTD. Plaintiff pointed to Defendant's standard form disciplinary notice, which provided for progressive discipline. Plaintiff was not afforded such progressive warnings, but was instead given a final disciplinary notice and then terminated. Furthermore, Plaintiff presented evidence that showed that Defendant did not adhere to its point system policy for tardiness. Doug Grant, Plaintiff's former supervisor, also testified that he would normally talk to employees if they were late returning from lunch, and if they continued the behavior, they would be written up. Plaintiff argued that she was not afforded such oral warnings, but was fired after a write up for schedule violations.

         Next, Plaintiff's Counsel elicited testimony from Jessica Baker, Defendant's assistant personnel manager. Baker admitted that she was aware that in the weeks preceding Plaintiff's termination, Plaintiff was frequently home with a sick child. Plaintiff's attorney questioned whether Defendant perceived Plaintiff, as a woman, to be the stereotypical caregiver of the family. He argued that Defendant terminated Plaintiff because of fear that she would take more time off work because of her gender.

         Finally, Plaintiff presented evidence that this was not the first time she had been confronted with Defendant's preference for men in the Tool and Die department. When Plaintiff first applied for the Tool and Die job, she was initially passed over because, Defendant claims, the position required experience. However, upon her second application, although Plaintiff had nineteen years' experience at MTD, Defendant hired an outsider, Gary Johnson, over Plaintiff.

         Therefore, the factual issues were properly reserved for the jury, who made credibility determinations resulting in a verdict for Plaintiff. See Jackson v. Cal-Western Packaging Corp., 602 F.3d 374, 379 (5th Cir. 2010) (noting that court may not weigh the evidence or engage in credibility determinations). Thus, it may not be said that “the facts and inferences point ‘so strongly and overwhelmingly in the movant's favor that reasonable jurors could not reach a contrary conclusion.'” Flowers, 247 F.3d at 235 (quoting Omnitech Int'l, Inc., 11 F.3d at 1322). Therefore, the jury's verdict on liability is upheld.

         Defendant's Rule 59 ...


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