109 F.3d 913 (3rd Cir. 1997), 95-1758, Woodson v. Scott Paper Co.

Docket Nº:95-1758.
Citation:109 F.3d 913
Party Name:James W. WOODSON, Appellee, v. SCOTT PAPER CO., Appellant.
Case Date:April 03, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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109 F.3d 913 (3rd Cir. 1997)

James W. WOODSON, Appellee,


SCOTT PAPER CO., Appellant.

No. 95-1758.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

April 3, 1997

Argued May 15, 1996.

Sur Petition for Panel Rehearing

with Suggestion for Rehearing In Banc

May 6, 1997.

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Steven R. Wall (Argued), Julie A. Uebler, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellant Scott Paper Company.

Alan B. Epstein (Argued), Jablon, Epstein, Wolf & Drucker, Philadelphia, PA, for Appellee James W. Woodson.

Before: BECKER, NYGAARD, and LEWIS, Circuit Judges.


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

James W. Woodson, an African-American male, brought suit against Scott Paper Company claiming that he was a victim of unlawful racial discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa.S. § 951 et seq. The jury found for Scott on the discrimination claims, but for Woodson on the retaliation claims, and made a large damages award. This appeal by Scott from the denial of its posttrial motions presents three issues.

First, Scott contends that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to establish that Woodson was terminated in retaliation for filing discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission ("PHRC"). Some two years passed between the complaints and his termination. According to Scott, the jury could not have reasonably found a "causal link" between the complaints and Woodson's discharge because the evidence fails to support a pattern of antagonistic behavior by Scott that links the complaints and the termination, which we have required in cases in which the two events are temporally remote. Although the question is close and no piece of evidence alone is sufficient to support a causal link finding, we will reject Scott's contention that judgment as a matter of law was improperly denied and affirm the denial of the Rule 50 motion in this respect because the evidence, when considered in its entirety, is sufficient to establish a causal link.

Scott's second contention is that, because no verified complaint was filed with the PHRC, judgment should be entered in its favor on Woodson's retaliation claim under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA") and, concomitantly, that Woodson's verdict is subject to the $300,000 damages cap of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3). We agree. The worksharing agreement between the PHRC and the EEOC does not operate to satisfy the PHRA's filing requirement. Moreover, the district court erred in holding that Woodson was excused from the filing requirement under the doctrine of "equitable filing," even if we were to predict that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would adopt such a doctrine. Hence we will reverse the district court's denial of Scott's Rule 50 motion in this respect and direct the district court to enter judgment in Scott's favor on Woodson's PHRA retaliation claim.

Finally, Scott appeals from the denial of its motion for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, and makes two separate claims of error in the jury instructions. First, it contends that the district court incorrectly instructed the jury that racist graffiti that appeared in a bathroom at Scott's Chester plant was "direct evidence" of Scott's unlawful motive. We conclude that the district court erred in charging the jury as such; the charge was misleading on several levels, and the graffiti incident can, at most, constitute circumstantial evidence of Scott's retaliatory motive. Second, Scott contends that the district court erred in charging the jury that retaliation need only be a "motivating factor" in Woodson's discharge in order to find in Woodson's favor, and that the jury should have been instructed that retaliation must have had a "determinative effect" on the decision to fire Woodson. Because we hold that the "motivating factor" standard of § 107 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 does not apply to retaliation claims, we necessarily conclude that the determinative effect standard, established in Miller v. CIGNA Corp., 47 F.3d 586, 595 (3d Cir.1995) (en banc), governs this case.

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Moreover, the jury charge errors were not harmless. For these reasons, we will affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for a new trial on Woodson's retaliation claim.

I. Facts and Procedural History

Woodson joined Scott in 1970 as a Chemical Material Specialist at the company's Philadelphia, Pennsylvania headquarters. Within six months, he was promoted to the position of Wet End Specialist. In 1973, Woodson received his second promotion (to Process Engineer) and was transferred to Scott's plant in Detroit. He remained in Detroit until 1978, having advanced to the position of Technical Director. After a brief return to Pennsylvania (this time to Scott's Chester plant), Woodson was promoted to Finishing Superintendent and relocated to Michigan.

In 1981, Woodson's wife unexpectedly died in surgery leaving him to raise a young son and nephew. He requested a transfer to the Philadelphia area in order to be closer to his family. In 1983, Scott found him a position in Chester, but it required a demotion to Paper Mill Technical Manager for the plant. Woodson accepted the position.

Woodson was successful at the Chester plant. In his 1986 performance evaluation, he received a ranking of "8" out of a possible 10 points from his supervisor, who praised his strengths as both a team player and a leader. Woodson was promoted to Technology Manager in 1987 and received a performance rating of "highly successful" in that position in 1987, 1988, and 1989. In 1989, he received an award for his involvement in an innovative plant project. He received raises in both 1989 and 1990.

Beginning in 1988, Woodson applied unsuccessfully for numerous product system leader positions. In November 1989, and again in February 1990, frustrated with Scott's failure to promote him, he filed charges of discrimination against Scott with both the EEOC and the PHRC, alleging that Scott had failed to promote him because of his race.

Scott maintains that Woodson was not promoted to product system leader in 1988 because he performed poorly in an interview for that position. In addition, Scott points out that Woodson's 1988 performance evaluation, prepared at the beginning of 1989, reported that he had "problems communicating with some peers and superiors diminishing his effectiveness. Does more telling than selling thereby creating conflict." Both Woodson and John Zohlman, Scott's Director of Human Resources for Manufacturing and Logistics, testified that, in May or June 1989, before Woodson filed his complaints, Zohlman suggested that Woodson consult with a behavioral psychologist, Dr. Bell, to improve his working relationships. Woodson's 1989 performance evaluation, prepared in 1990 after he had filed his first complaint, recommended that Woodson work with an outside consultant "to evaluate and improve perception by superiors."

In October 1990, Woodson was awarded one of the three open product system leader positions, in the Light Weight Wet Strength--Napkins division. In this capacity, he reported to James Peiffer, the Chester Plant Manager. 1 Peiffer testified that Woodson was awarded the napkin line position because "the napkins was a good fit for him," and Woodson testified that he was "probably the only person at Scott Paper who could turn napkins around." Of the three divisions with open positions, the napkin line division was the smallest and worst performing.

Woodson testified that, after receiving this promotion, Zohlman called to congratulate him. During the course of that conversation, Zohlman suggested that Woodson drop his administrative complaints: "[Zohlman] basically, in passing comment, suggested that okay, now that I was a product system leader, I ought to focus my attention in that direction toward--as opposed to the EEO suits and perhaps I should drop the suits."

Woodson claims that, as product system leader, he repeatedly requested more workers and more management support, but that these requests were denied until October

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1991, just months before his discharge. Woodson also continued to seek further promotions, but testified that he felt blocked.

In June or July 1991, during Woodson's tenure as product system leader, graffiti was spray-painted on the wall of a men's bathroom in the Chester plant. That graffiti stated--"Nigger, I'm going to get you," "Niggers are taking our jobs," and "Niggers who talk are Niggers who hang." At the time, Woodson was the only new black management employee, and the only one who had "talked"--i.e., filed a claim of discrimination. Scott immediately hired a private investigator to explore the incident, and sent out a letter to employees condemning the graffiti. Scott also formed a task force, which hired an outside consultant and prepared a survey of employees to explore the issues raised by the graffiti. The parties, however, dispute the adequacy of Scott's response: Diversity training was not implemented until after Woodson left Scott's employ, and Woodson testified that to his knowledge Scott took no action in response to the graffiti, other than the letter to employees.

In the fall of 1991, Scott initiated a reorganization and cost reduction program. Pursuant to the plan, Scott implemented a "forced ranking" of all employees. On November 19, 1991, Thomas Czepiel (Vice President for Manufacturing Operations), William Wadsworth (Vice President, Asset Optimization), and Edward...

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