Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Midwest Regional Medical Center LLC
ORDER denying 166 EEOC's Post-Trial Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law & Brief in Support (as more fully set out). Signed by Honorable Vicki Miles-LaGrange on 9/13/2017. (ks)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY
MIDWEST REGIONAL MEDICAL
Case No. CIV-13-789-M
Before the Court is EEOC’s Post-Trial Motion for Judgement as a Matter of Law &
Brief in Support, filed September 23, 2014. On October 14, 2014, defendant Midwest
Regional Medical Center, LLC (“MRMC”) responded, and on October 21, 2014, EEOC
replied. Based on the parties’ submissions, the Court makes its determination.
On July 13, 2013, EEOC filed this instant action, on behalf of Janice Withers
(“Withers”), alleging that MRMC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)
when it terminated Withers from her employment. A jury trial was conducted to determine
if MRMC violated the ADA when it terminated Withers. On August 22, 2014, a jury
entered its verdict finding in favor of MRMC. EEOC now renews its motion for judgment
as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), contending that the
evidence at trial was legally insufficient to sustain a verdict for MRMC. Further, EEOC
contends that, alternatively, a new trial is proper where the jury was permitted to hear and
consider improper and irrelevant comments and evidence that substantially prejudiced
EEOC’s right to a fair trial. Lastly, EEOC asserts that it was entitled to summary judgment
because MRMC’s Rule 30(b)(6) deposition errata sheet of Bryttani Bay (“Bay”) should
have been stricken from consideration.
“Judgment as a matter of law is warranted only if the evidence points but one way
and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences supporting the party opposing the motion.
We do not weigh the evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute our
conclusions for that of the jury. However, we must enter judgment as a matter of law in
favor of the moving party if there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis with respect to
a claim or defense under the controlling law.” Mason v. Okla. Tpk. Auth., 115 F.3d 1442,
1450 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations and citations omitted). In considering a motion
for judgment as a matter of law, the court should construe the evidence and inferences most
favorably to the non-moving party. Doan v. Seagate Tech., Inc., 82 F.3d 974, 976 (10th
“The decision whether to grant a new trial is committed to the informed discretion
of the district court.” Ryder v. City of Topeka, 814 F.2d 1412, 1424 (10th Cir. 1987). In
considering a motion for new trial, the court must view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prevailing party. Joyce v. Davis, 539 F.2d 1262, 1264 (10th Cir. 1976).
“[T]he party seeking to set aside a jury verdict must demonstrate trial errors which
constitute prejudicial error or that the verdict is not based on substantial evidence.” White
v. Conoco, Inc., 710 F.2d 1442, 1443 (10th Cir. 1983). A new trial is appropriate if the
verdict is “clearly, decidedly or overwhelmingly against the weight of the evidence.” Black
v. Hieb’s Enters., Inc., 805 F.2d 360, 363 (10th Cir. 1986) (internal citations omitted).
Legally insufficient evidence to sustain a verdict in favor of MRMC
EEOC contends that the jury’s finding that MRMC was not liable under the ADA
was against the weight of the evidence presented at trial. EEOC contends that based on the
evidence presented, the jury should have found that Withers was a qualified individual with
a disability and that Withers’ skin cancer was a determining factor in her termination from
MRMC. MRMC contends that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find it did not
violate the ADA when it terminated Withers.
For MRMC to have been held liable under the ADA for discrimination, EEOC had
to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) Withers had a disability, skin cancer;
(2) Withers was a qualified individual; (3) Withers was discharged from her employment
with MRMC; and (4) Withers’ skin cancer was a determining factor that prompted MRMC
to discharge Withers. See Jury Instruction No. 14 [docket no. 160]. The only elements for
the jury to determine at trial was whether Withers was a qualified individual and whether
her skin cancer was a determining factor that prompted MRMC to discharge Withers. 1
EEOC contends the evidence at trial showed that Withers was discharged by
MRMC while she was on a medical leave of absence (“LOA”). Withers’ supervisor, Susan
The Court had already determined in its August 7, 2014 Order that, as a matter of
law, Withers was an individual with a disability as defined in the ADA, and the parties did
not dispute that Withers was discharged from her employment.
Milan (“Milan”), placed Withers on a medical LOA on March 5, 2012, due to Withers
calling in when she was unable to come to work. EEOC presented evidence that Withers
would call in when she was suffering from the effects of the radiation treatment for her
skin cancer. When Withers did not call in or come to work for three consecutive days on
March 6, March 7, and March 8, 2012, while she was still on the medical LOA, MRMC
terminated her. EEOC contends that the reasons MRMC gave for terminating Withers –
excessive absences and three days straight of no call/no show were pretext and, further,
contends that the evidence presented at trial overwhelmingly supported the inference that
Withers was terminated because of her skin cancer. EEOC also contends that based on the
jury note demonstrating that the jury believed Withers’ termination constituted wrongful
termination, the weight of the evidence supported a verdict in favor of EEOC.
Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, the Court finds that EEOC is
not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on this basis. Specifically, the Court finds that
while EEOC may have proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Withers was a
qualified individual with a disability under the ADA, it was reasonable for the jury to
determine, based on the evidence presented at trial, that Withers’ skin cancer was not a
determining factor that prompted MRMC to discharge her. Specifically, with respect to the
decision to terminate Withers, Milan testified that she was getting dissatisfied with
Withers’ absences and that, as such, she unilaterally placed her on a medical LOA until
March 12, 2012, and required Withers to return to work with a medical release. When
Milan requested guidance in early March about what to do regarding Withers’ absences,
assistant HR director, JoDee Tinga, told her to put Withers on a LOA. However, HR
Director, Angela Giese, who had the authority to approve LOAs, did not approve Withers’
medical LOA and told Milan to terminate Withers because she was ineligible for a medical
LOA due to the fact she had not been employed full time with MRMC for at least 90 days.
EEOC did present evidence that MRMC was inconsistent in determining who actually
made the decision to terminate Withers, and that MRMC did not follow its policies and
procedures in putting Withers on the medical LOA. However, Milan testified that it did not
matter why someone had an unexcused absence and that she was getting dissatisfied with
Withers’ absences and had already sought guidance as to how to handle Withers’ absences.
The Court, construing the evidence and inferences in favor of MRMC, finds that the jury
could reasonably infer that while the policies and procedures were not followed with the
termination of Withers, the decision and process to terminate Withers, while wrongful, was
not because of Withers’ skin cancer, but because of her excessive absences.
New trial due to alleged errors committed at trial
EEOC contends that errors committed during the trial entitles it to a new trial.
Specifically, EEOC contends that MRMC introduced irrelevant and inadmissible evidence
about Withers’ radiation treatment and its supposed side effects that were not known to or
considered by MRMC when it forced Withers to take a medical LOA and then terminated
her. MRMC contends that no substantial errors were committed that substantially
prejudiced EEOC entitling it to a new trial.
Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, the Court finds that EEOC has
not demonstrated that any trial errors constituted prejudicial error against it. Specifically,
EEOC’s assertions that it was substantially prejudiced during the trial rely on the fact that
MRMC was allowed to elicit testimony, over EEOC’s objection, regarding Withers’
interaction (or lack thereof) with her doctor regarding her skin cancer; however, the Court
finds that even if it was improper to allow evidence regarding Withers’ interactions with
her skin cancer doctor, it cannot be reasonably concluded that if said evidence was
excluded the jury’s verdict would have been different and, thus, EEOC’s substantial rights
were not prejudiced by allowing evidence of Withers’ interactions with her skin cancer
Reconsideration of Court’s summary judgment order
EEOC contends that it was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law in this
matter because had the Court not considered the errata sheet submitted by MRMC’s Rule
30(b)(6) deponent Bay, it would have been undisputed that the medical LOA Withers was
placed on was legally protected as a reasonable accommodation. MRMC contends that
EEOC’s request for reconsideration of the Court’s Order on summary judgment in this
matter is untimely, and, further, that EEOC is barred from raising this argument because it
was not made in its Rule 50(a) motion at trial.
“Grounds warranting a motion to reconsider include (1) an intervening change in
the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct
error or prevent manifest injustice.” Servants of the Paraclete v. John Does I-XVI, 204
F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000). A motion to reconsider is appropriate “where the court
has misapprehended the facts, a party’s position, or the controlling law” but is not
appropriate “to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been
raised in prior briefing.” Id.
Having carefully reviewed the parties’ submissions, the Court finds that EEOC has
not set forth any new grounds warranting reconsideration of the Court’s Order on EEOC’s
motion for summary judgment in this matter. Specifically, the first time EEOC asserted its
position that the errata sheet of Bay should have been struck was in its reply brief to
MRMC’s response to EEOC’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. At the time the
Court made its ruling on EEOC’s motion for summary judgment, the issue of striking the
errata sheet was not properly before the Court and, therefore, had no impact on the Court’s
ruling on whether MRMC violated the ADA when it terminated Withers. Further, the Court
finds that EEOC’s request for the Court to reconsider its Order on EEOC’s motion for
summary judgment is untimely, and essentially moot, as the issue of reasonable
accommodation was not an issue EEOC pursued at trial or raised in its Rule 50(a) motion
for judgment as a matter of law at trial. Therefore, for the reasons set forth above, the Court
finds that EEOC is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, the Court DENIES EEOC’s Post-Trial
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law & Brief in Support [docket no. 166].
IT IS SO ORDERED this 13th day of September, 2017.
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