Adams et al v. Austal, U.S.A., L.L.C.
ORDER denying 529 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law as set out. Signed by Judge Kristi K. DuBose on 12/20/2011. (cmj)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
EARATON ADAMS, et al.,
AUSTAL, USA, L.LC.,
CIVIL ACTION NO 08-0155-KD-N
This matter is before the Court on the Defendant’s Rule 50(b)1 Renewed Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law as to the punitive damages claims of Plaintiffs Earaton Adams and
Myron Barnes (Doc. 529) and Plaintiffs’ Response (Doc. 546).
During the September 26-October 5, 2011 trial, which included trial of the Title VII and/or
Section 1981 race discrimination claims of Plaintiffs Earaton Adams and Myron Barnes, Austal
moved for a Rule 50 judgment as a matter of law concerning all of the plaintiffs’ claims. (Doc. 500).
In relevant part, the Court denied Austal’s motion as to these two (2) Plaintiffs’ hostile work
environment claims, and took under advisement the remaining claims. On October 5, 2011, the jury
concluded that it was unable to reach a verdict on the two (2) Plaintiffs’ hostile work environment
claims, but found in favor of Austal on both of their failure to promote claims and on Barnes’
1 Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[i]f the court does not grant a motion
for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the
action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later
than 28 days after the entry of judgment- - or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict,
no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged -- the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment
as a matter of law…”
retaliation claim. (Doc. 515; Doc. 515-1; Doc. 515-2). In so doing, the jury rendered no verdict on
these Plaintiffs’ damages claims (compensatory and/or punitives). (Id.) Austal has now timely
renewed its prior motion for judgment as a matter of law, but only as to that portion which addressed
these two (2) Plaintiffs’ punitive damages claims. Specifically, Austal contends that punitive
damages are not recoverable because Plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence at trial from
which a reasonable jury could find that the allegedly racially harassing conduct was committed or
approved by a member of Austal’s upper management and/or that Austal failed to act in good faith
to prevent unlawful harassment. In contrast, Plaintiffs contend that based on the evidence presented
at trial, their punitive damages claims are viable and are thus properly left to a jury.
Under Rule 50(b), a party may renew its Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law
after the jury has returned its verdict if there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a
reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. See, e.g., Lipphardt v. Durango Steakhouse of
Brandon, Inc., 267 F.3d 1183, 1186 (11th Cir. 2001).2
“The question before the district
court…remains whether the evidence is ‘legally sufficient to find for the party on that issue,’
regardless of whether the district court's analysis is undertaken before or after submitting the case to
the jury.” Chaney v. City of Orlando, Fla., 483 F.3d 1221, 1227 (11th Cir. 2007). See also e.g.,
Cleveland v. Home Shopping Network, Inc., 369 F.3d 1189, 1192 (11th Cir. 2004). Judgment as a
matter of law is appropriate only if “the facts and inferences point [so] overwhelmingly in favor of
one party...that reasonable people could not arrive at a contrary verdict.” Brown v. Alabama Dept.
2 The same standard applies when a jury is deadlocked. See, e.g., Lehman v. Leichliter, 2007 WL
1232204, *1 (W.D. La. Apr. 25, 2007); Noonan v. Midland Capital Corp., 453 F.2d 459, 463 (2nd Cir.
1972); Kerman v. City of New York, 261 F.3d 229 (2nd Cir. 2001).
of Transp., 597 F.3d 1160, 1173 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d
1519, 1526 (11th Cir. 1997)). The Court “consider[s] whether the evidence presents a sufficient
disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail
as a matter of law.” U.S. E.E.O.C. v. W&O, Inc., 213 F.3d 600, 610 (11th Cir. 2000). The Court
must also “consider all the evidence, and the inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party.” Id. Further, the Court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh
the evidence’” as “[t]hose are the jury’s functions.” Brown, 597 F.3d at 1173. See also e.g.,
Lipphardt, 267 F.3d at 1186.
To establish entitlement to punitive damages, a plaintiff must show substantial evidence “that
the employer acted with actual malice or reckless indifference to his federally protected rights.” See,
e.g., Wilbur v. Correctional Services Corp., 393 F.3d 1192, 1204-1205 (11th Cir. 2004): Miller v.
Kenworth of Dothan, Inc., 277 F.3d 1269, 1280 (11th Cir. 2002); W&O, Inc., 213 F.3d at 610-611.
“Malice or reckless indifference is established by a showing that the employer discriminated in the
face of the knowledge that its actions would violate federal law.” Kolstad v. Am. Dental Ass’n, 527
U.S. 526 (1999). Although an employer's egregious misconduct is evidence of the employer's
"malice" or "reckless indifference" to the employee's federally protected rights, the employee is not
limited to evidence of such misconduct to establish the intent necessary to award punitive damages.
Kolstad, 527 U.S. 526. The employer's "malice" or "reckless indifference" pertain to the employer's
knowledge that it may be acting in violation of federal law, not its awareness that it is engaging in
discrimination. Id. The employer may not be held vicariously liable for discriminatory employment
decisions of managerial agents, when those decisions are contrary to the employer's good-faith
efforts to comply with Title VII. Id. “[I]n this Circuit, ‘punitive damages will ordinarily not be
assessed against employers with only constructive knowledge of harassment.’…In order to ground
liability in an employer, the plaintiff must establish that ‘the discriminating employee was high up
the corporate hierarchy’ or that ‘higher management countenanced or approved his behavior.’…”
Wilbur, 393 F.3d at 1205 (citations omitted). See also Miller, 277 F.3d at 1280.
Both Plaintiffs and Austal dedicate approximately 20 pages of argument to their respective
interpretations of the evidence presented at trial – notably, conflicting interpretations of the same
evidence. At the September/October trial, a jury was unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict
regarding this evidence to then render a verdict as to liability and/or damages for Plaintiffs Earaton
Adams and Myron Barnes. Presently, Austal seeks for this Court to find that this same evidence is
“so one-sided that it must prevail as a matter of law.” The Court’s review of the trial evidence, as
presented by the parties, reveals significant disputed issues, particularly whether Austal made a good
faith effort to comply with Title VII. To award the relief Austal seeks then, would necessarily
require this Court to “make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence[.]’” Brown, 597 F.3d
at 1173. However, “[t]hose are the jury’s functions.” Id. Upon consideration, the Court finds that
sufficient “conflict of substantial evidence” exists as the facts and inferences do not “point
overwhelmingly” in favor of Austal but instead, “reasonable and fair-minded men in the exercise of
impartial judgment might reach different conclusions[.]” See, e.g., Neff v. Kehoe, 708 F.2d 639,
641-642 (11th Cir. 1983). Thus, drawing all inferences in favor of the Plaintiffs, the evidence is not
so one-sided that Austal is plainly entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the matter of Plaintiffs’
punitive damages claims. W&O, Inc., 213 F.3d at 610.
Accordingly, based on the foregoing, it is ORDERED that Austal’s Rule 50(b) Renewed
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law as to the punitive damages claims of Plaintiffs Earaton
Adams and Myron Barnes (Doc. 529) is DENIED.
DONE and ORDERED this the 20th day of December 2011.
/s/ Kristi K. DuBose
KRISTI K. DuBOSE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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