15 F.3d 1013 (11th Cir. 1994), 92-2926, Meeks v. Computer Associates Intern.

Docket Nº:92-2926.
Citation:15 F.3d 1013
Party Name:1 Wage & Hour Cas. 2d (BNA) 1544 Jessica Lind MEEKS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. COMPUTER ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL, a foreign corporation, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:March 07, 1994
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1013

15 F.3d 1013 (11th Cir. 1994)

1 Wage & Hour Cas. 2d (BNA) 1544

Jessica Lind MEEKS, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

COMPUTER ASSOCIATES INTERNATIONAL, a foreign corporation,

Defendant-Appellant.

No. 92-2926.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 7, 1994

Page 1014

Christopher K. Kay, Richard A. DuRose, Orlando, FL, for defendant-appellant.

Patricia L. Strowbridge, Sharon Lee Stedman, Deciccio & Associates, P.A., Orlando, FL, for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before DUBINA and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and MORGAN, Senior Circuit Judge.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

In this sex discrimination case, Computer Associates appeals from a judgment based upon a jury verdict finding it liable under the Equal Pay Act (EPA), 29 U.S.C.A. Sec. 206(d)(1), and upon a district court finding of liability for sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C.A. Secs. 2000e-2(a), 2000e-3(a). We affirm the part of the judgment based upon the EPA claim and reject Computer Associates' contention that the district court erred by limiting the evidence of comparators' salaries to those of the plaintiff's colleagues in the specific office where she worked. We also reject Computer Associates' contentions that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict on liability and damages. As for the two-component Title VII portion of the judgment, we affirm insofar as the retaliation claim is concerned. We reverse, however, on the sex discrimination claim, because the district court made no finding of intentional discrimination, and because it erroneously held that the jury's EPA verdict compelled it to enter a Title VII discrimination judgment for the plaintiff.

I. BACKGROUND

  1. FACTS

    Jessica Meeks was hired as a technical writer at Computer Associates' Maitland, Florida, facility in September 1988. The Maitland facility develops computer software for the banking industry and the technical writers prepare manuals to accompany the software. During 1988, Computer Associates added four technical writers and a supervisor at the Maitland facility. Of the four writers, two, Peter George and J.R. Arth, are male and two, Meeks and Susan Cain, are female. George transferred from a Computer Associates facility in Massachusetts, and the other three writers were new hires. In March 1989, Meeks inadvertently learned the salaries of her three co-workers. George was earning $35,000 per year (the same as his salary in Massachusetts); Arth $28,500; Cain and Meeks $24,500 each. Meeks' initial salary had been $23,500, but she had received a $1,000 raise in February 1989.

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    Meeks believed the salaries to be discriminatory and complained to her supervisor, Laverne Peter.

    According to Meeks, her complaint resulted in ongoing harassment from Laverne Peter, including a series of fierce verbal confrontations. Meeks was placed on thirty days probation in September 1989, allegedly because of declining work performance and absenteeism. At the end of the probationary period, Peter asked Meeks to set out her goals for the ensuing thirty days. Meeks characterized the request as "obviously a continuation of harassment."

    In November 1989, Meeks filed a complaint with the EEOC. In December, because she was pregnant and experiencing difficulties with her pregnancy, Meeks began to work at home. In March, she initiated this suit. In May 1990, Meeks returned to work after her maternity leave. Meeks maintains that shortly after her return to the office she was given an unjustified work evaluation, rating her performance as unsatisfactory. Later, Meeks decided to take some of her work product for use in her pending lawsuit. Apparently she had a change of heart and left the materials under a public stairwell at work, where they were found. Meeks was also absent on one occasion and failed to call until hours after she should have reported. After these events, Meeks was summoned to a meeting with Peter and Ron Nall, the general manager. Computer Associates issued Meeks a written warning but claims to have taken no other action. Meeks testified that she was called into Nall's office where Nall and Peter "proceeded to yell and scream. And, I mean, Ron was so close, he was in my face, his spit was flying in my face. He was leaning over, this big guy. I thought he was going [to] hit me." Meeks resigned in June 1990, shortly after this meeting. Meeks alleged a pattern of harassment that constituted constructive discharge in retaliation for complaining about the disparities in the technical writers' salaries, in violation of Title VII. 42 U.S.C.A. Sec. 2000e-3(a).

  2. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

    With the consent of the parties, the action was referred to a Magistrate Judge. See 28 U.S.C.A. Sec. 636(c) (1993). The case went to trial on Meeks' claims that Computer Associates violated the Equal Pay Act by paying her less than her male colleagues and by retaliating against her for filing her claim with the EEOC and that Computer Associates had violated Title VII by discriminating against her on the basis of her gender and her pregnancy and by retaliating against her for having complained of the pay disparities. The EPA claim was tried to a jury while the Title VII claim was tried to the court simultaneously.

    At trial, Computer Associates sought to introduce evidence of the salaries of the 116 technical writers it employs at its various offices. Meeks objected that the only relevant salaries were those paid to the Maitland technical writers. The district court sustained Meeks' objection, ruling that only Meeks' three colleagues at the Maitland facility were proper comparators.

    The jury returned a special verdict:

    Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff and member or members of the opposite sex have been employed by the defendant on jobs the performance of which requires substantially equal skills, effort and responsibilities? Answer, Yes.

    Do you find from the preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff and member or members of the opposite sex have been employed by the defendant on jobs which were performed under similar working conditions? Answer, Yes.

    Do you find from the preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff was paid at a lower salary than a member of the opposite sex working as a technical writer at the Maitland office? Answer, Yes.

    Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant has shown that the difference in salary between plaintiff and the male technical writer(s) in the Maitland office was based upon a factor other than the plaintiff's sex? Answer, No.

    Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant retaliated

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    against the plaintiff for filing a complaint or charge for violation of the Equal Pay Act? Answer, Yes.

    Do you find that the defendant constructively discharged the plaintiff? Answer, Yes.

    What do you find from a preponderance of the evidence is the amount of damages plaintiff sustained, that is the amount plaintiff should have been paid less the amount she was actually paid by reason of her wage disparity from the date she was hired until her termination of June 13, 1990? Damages, $14,388.00.

    The district court remitted the EPA damages to $13,371. The court held that Computer Associates had failed to show that it had acted in good faith and therefore awarded Meeks an equal amount ($13,371) in liquidated damages under 29 U.S.C.A. Secs. 216(b) and 260. The court further found that Computer Associates had retaliated against Meeks for lodging her EPA complaint and awarded her another equal amount ($13,371) in liquidated damages under 29 U.S.C.A. Sec. 215(b). Thus, Meeks' total award under the EPA was $40,113.

    The court "consider[ed] itself bound by the jury's" EPA findings to conclude that Computer Associates had violated Title VII by engaging in gender-based wage discrimination. The court also specifically found that Computer Associates had retaliated against Meeks in violation of Title VII. The district court credited Meeks' expert's uncontroverted testimony that she had lost...

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