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Perry v. Autozone Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

February 3, 2014

SHANA PERRY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AUTOZONE STORES, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. HEYBURN, II, District Judge.

After extensive litigation, trial, and entry of judgment against it, Defendant AutoZone has filed post-trial motions requesting judgment in its favor, a new trial, or remittitur. The Court has previously considered some of these issues at great length in prior memorandum opinions and on the trial record. With regard to these issues, the Court will not elaborate much further here. The Court will address all other issues more comprehensively. Plaintiffs have also moved for their attorney's fees and costs.

I.

This litigation has been fiercely contested from the outset. It involves multiple claims by three separate Plaintiffs, former AutoZone employees, arising from an overlapping series of workplace events. The claims and the surrounding circumstances create a complicated picture. Prior to trial, the Court considered numerous dispositive motions on various issues. In the process, the Court held numerous conferences to hear argument of counsel.

The claims arise from the following alleged events: Shana Perry was sexually harassed by AutoZone Store Manager Mark DeHaan; Daryl Quiney and Damon Harper participated in AutoZone's investigation of Perry's complaint by reporting what they had witnessed; DeHaan, Quiney, and Harper were terminated; after DeHaan's termination, Perry suffered retaliatory harassment from AutoZone District Manager Donnie Helstern.

On June 4, 2013, the Court dismissed the claims of Quiney and Harper for racial discrimination arising from a July 2010 Corrective Action, negative employment references, and failure to promote. The Court denied summary judgment as to their claims for racially discriminatory termination. In addition, the Court dismissed the remainder of Quiney and Harper's claims, including claims for retaliatory termination for participating in the investigation of Perry's sexual harassment claim against Store Manager Mark DeHaan.

Two weeks later, the Court dismissed Perry's claims for disparate pay under Title VII, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and retaliatory constructive discharge. The Court allowed Perry to proceed on her claims for disparate pay under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act (KCRA), sexually hostile work environment under the KCRA and Title VII, and retaliatory hostile work environment under the KCRA and Title VII. Eventually, the jury would return a favorable verdict on these last two claims.

The Court also reconsidered and reinstated Harper's and Quiney's claims for retaliatory termination. In reaching these decisions, the Court noted that "the highly unusual and even bizarre circumstances of this case contribute to the Court's difficulty in concluding a definitive analysis." Ultimately, the jury would return a favorable verdict on this claim for both Quiney and Harper.

Prior to trial, the Court heard argument on various evidentiary issues. On September 20 and October 8, the Court entered orders on those issues and also denied Plaintiffs' motion to bifurcate trial. On October 9, the Court reconsidered and denied Defendant's motion to dismiss Quiney's and Harper's racial discrimination claims.

The trial on the remaining issues commenced on October 15 and involved six days of testimony. Prior to sending the case to the jury, the Court directed a verdict against Quiney and Harper on their racial discriminatory termination and punitive damage claims, and against Perry on her punitive damage claim tied to her disparate pay claim.

On October 23, the jury returned a verdict for Perry on both her sexual harassment and retaliatory harassment claims, awarding $150, 000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress and $400, 000 in punitive damages; for Quiney on his retaliatory discharge claim, awarding $23, 300 for economic loss and $100, 000 for emotional distress; and for Harper on the same claim, awarding $60, 000 for economic loss and $100, 000 for emotional distress. It is from these verdicts that Defendant moves for relief.

II.

Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 in rare instances- only when there was "no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for [the prevailing] party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). The Court will consider the entire trial record. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). It must "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the prevailing party, and it may not make any credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Id. "District courts should grant judgment as a matter of law only if a complete absence of proof exists on a material issue in the action, or if no disputed issue of fact exists on which reasonable minds could differ." Karam v. Sagemark Consulting, Inc., 383 F.3d 421, 427 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting LaPerriere v. Int'l Union UAW, 348 F.3d 127, 132 (6th Cir. 2003)).

A new trial is warranted when "a jury has reached a seriously erroneous result' as evidenced by: (1) the verdict being against the weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by prejudice or bias." Holmes v. City of Massillon, Ohio, 78 F.3d 1041, 1045-46 (6th Cir. 1996).

Finally, remittitur is appropriate only if a jury's damage award is "beyond the maximum damages that the jury reasonably could find to be compensatory for a party's loss." Am. Trim, L.L.C. v. Oracle Corp., 383 F.3d 462, 475 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Farber v. Massillon Bd. of Educ., 917 F.2d 1391, 1395 (6th Cir. 1990)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court may remit if after reviewing the evidence in favor to the nonmoving party, "the verdict is clearly excessive; resulted from passion, bias, or prejudice; or is so excessive or inadequate as to shock the conscience of the court." Am. Trim, L.L.C., 383 F.3d at 475 (citing Farber, 917 F.2d at 1395).

The Court will consider each of the issues Defendant has raised in turn.

III.

The Court will first address Defendant's motion for statutory remittitur as to Perry's damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981(b)(3)(D). The difficulty with this otherwise straightforward issue arises due to the jury verdict in favor of Perry that is equally applicable to her federal and state claims.

Under Section 1981a(b)(3)(D), because AutoZone has 500 or more employees, noneconomic damages recoverable under Title VII are capped at $300, 000 per claimant per action. The cap is per claimant, not per claim. Hudson v. Reno, 130 F.3d 1193, 1200 (6th Cir. 1997) abrogated on other grounds by Pollard v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 532 U.S. 843 (2001); Fogg v. Ashcroft, 254 F.3d 103, 108 (D.C. Cir. 2001). This limit is imposed on the sum of compensatory and punitive damages. See White v. Burlington N. & Santa Fe R. Co., 364 F.3d 789, 806 (6th Cir. 2004) ...


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