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Bell v. VF Jeanswear LP

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 28, 2019

Lori Bell, Plaintiff,
v.
VF Jeanswear LP, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE JOHN J. TUCHI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         At issue are Plaintiff's Motion Under FRCP 52(b) to Amend Findings, Conclusions, and Judgment (Doc. 254), to which Defendant filed a Response (Doc. 265) and Plaintiff filed a Reply (Doc. 267); Defendant's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (Doc. 255), to which Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 269) and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 271); and Defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Pursuant to Rules 50 and 59 (Doc. 257), to which Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 270) and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 272). The Court resolves these Motions without oral argument. See LRCiv 7.2(f).

         After a trial from March 21 to 31, 2017, a jury found that Defendant violated Title VII by discriminating against Plaintiff, its former employee, on the basis of sex. (Doc. 204.) The jury found that Defendant's actions did not violate the Equal Pay Act or the Arizona Wage Act. (Doc. 204.)

         The Court then held a three-day evidentiary hearing between May 4 and 11, 2017, after which the Court entered an Order setting forth its findings of fact and conclusions as to Plaintiff's equitable damages for Defendant's violation of Title VII. (Doc. 243, Damages Order.) The Court also limited the $528, 000 jury award of compensatory and punitive damages to $300, 000, as provided by 42 U.S.C. § 1982a(b)(3). In sum, the Court determined that Plaintiff was entitled to $300, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages and $206, 928.06 in equitable damages.

         The parties have filed various Motions to express their disagreement with the Court's findings and conclusions in the Damages Order and with regard to punitive damages at trial. The Court has reviewed the record and the submissions of the parties and now addresses the Motions in turn.

         I. Plaintiff's Rule 52(b) Motion

         Under Rule[1] 52(b), Plaintiff asks that the Court amend certain of its findings in the Damages Order. Plaintiff first argues that the Court erred in finding that Plaintiff's entitlement to back pay terminated on August 31, 2015, because Defendant's evidence was not sufficient to show that Plaintiff could obtain a suitable position after August 2015. The Court disagrees. As the Court already pointed out in the Damages Order, “a job in sales of other apparel and accessory items, whether specialty or general, is not so different in character that Plaintiff's initial lack of intimate familiarity with the product line or industry could be said to affect her opportunities.” (Damages Order at 14.) “The law does not allow Plaintiff to redefine what is substantially equivalent employment such that it eliminates all other possible employment.” (Damages Order at 14.)

         In its present Motion, Plaintiff has presented nothing new, and it should thus come as no surprise to Plaintiff that the Court's findings remain the same now. Moreover, as the Court also noted in the Damages Order, Plaintiff failed to make a reasonable effort to mitigate her damages after February 28, 2014-making only “post hoc attempts to create the appearance of diligence” (Damages Order at 16)-and Plaintiff was thus not entitled to back pay for the period in which Defendant showed that substantially equivalent job opportunities existed, that is, from August 31, 2015 on (Damages Order at 14-15). The Court finds no error in its prior findings and conclusions.

         Plaintiff next argues that the Court should adjust Plaintiff's compensation amount to match that earned by a male who obtained a position she was denied. As the Court has already stated on several occasions in these proceedings, the issue of Plaintiff's compensation as compared to a similarly situated male was presented to the jury in the form of Plaintiff's Equal Pay Act and Arizona Wage Act claims, both of which the jury rejected. The jury expressly found that the differences in pay between Plaintiff and male counterparts “resulted from one or more factors other than sex.” (Doc. 204 at 4.) Plaintiff has not demonstrated that, ignoring gender, she would have earned the same amount as a particular male who obtained the position she was denied. Once again, this is a subject on which the Court has already expressed its conclusion, and Plaintiff presents nothing new to convince the Court to change its conclusion. The Court will thus deny Plaintiff's Rule 52(b) Motion (Doc. 254).

         II. Defendant's Rule 59(e) Motion

         Defendant asks the Court to alter the Judgment under Rule 59(e) by reconsidering the conclusion that Plaintiff is entitled to back pay even though she resigned from her job after Defendant's discriminatory employment action. In their briefs related to Defendant's Rule 59(e) Motion, the parties renew arguments they have already made to the Court in at least 14 prior briefs, (see Damages Order at 1 (enumerating briefs)), and which the Court already addressed in detail, (e.g., Damages Order at 2-6). Defendant presents no new argument to the Court and should be unsurprised that the Court declines to change its prior conclusion. The Court will thus deny Defendant's Rule 59(e) Motion (Doc. 255).

         III. Defendant's Rules 50 and 59 Motion

         Defendant next argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 or a new trial under Rule 59 on the issue of punitive damages. Specifically, Defendant argues (1) the trial record contains insufficient evidence that Defendant's conduct was willful, egregious, or recklessly indifferent, as required for a punitive damages award; (2) the jury's punitive damages award of $500, 000, as compared to the compensatory damages award of $28, 000, is excessive and disproportionate, even though the Court reduced the award to the statutory cap; and (3) the Court improperly admitted testimony regarding two former employees of Defendant and excluded evidence of Defendant's anti-harassment policy.

         Rule 50(a) provides that after a party has been fully heard on an issue at trial, the court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against that party only if it finds that “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” Rule 59(a) provides that the court may “grant a new trial on some of the issues . . . for any reason for which new trial has heretofore been granted.” Upon review of the record of trial in this case, it is clear to the Court that the evidence presented provided a legally ...


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