160 F.3d 1291 (10th Cir. 1998), 96-3326, Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc.

Docket Nº:96-3326, 96-3327.
Citation:160 F.3d 1291
Party Name:Guillermo SANJUAN, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, v. IBP, INC., Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.
Case Date:November 16, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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Page 1291

160 F.3d 1291 (10th Cir. 1998)

Guillermo SANJUAN, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant,

v.

IBP, INC., Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 96-3326, 96-3327.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 16, 1998

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David O. Alegria of McCullough, Wareheim & LaBunker, P.A., Topeka, Kansas, for Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant.

Jack Focht of Focht, Hughey & Calvert, L.L.C., Wichita, Kansas, for Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

Before BALDOCK, HOLLOWAY and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

HOLLOWAY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant Guillermo Sanjuan ("Sanjuan") filed suit on December 12, 1994, in the United States District

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Court for the District of Kansas against Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee IBP, Inc. ("IBP"), alleging that IBP terminated Sanjuan's employment in retaliation for Sanjuan's work-related injury. The district court had diversity jurisdiction of the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The case was tried before a jury, which found in favor of Sanjuan. Both parties filed post-trial motions, all of which were denied by the district court.

IBP appeals the district court's judgment, claiming error in the denial of its motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 1 and its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 2 Sanjuan cross-appeals, claiming error in the district court's refusal to submit Sanjuan's proposed jury instruction to the jury, in the verdict form submitted to the jury, and denial of his motion for an additur. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse and remand for a new trial, but affirm the rulings which Sanjuan's cross-appeal challenges.

BACKGROUND

Sanjuan began his employment with IBP as a flanker in 1991 at IBP's Holcomb, Kansas, plant. 3 Initially, Sanjuan did not have any problems with his supervisors. In late May 1992, Sanjuan experienced pain in his shoulder, arm, and back while working as a flanker. III App. at 708. Sanjuan visited IBP's company nurse for treatment for his pain between May 1992 and June 1992. He eventually saw a doctor and Sanjuan was restricted to "light work." III App. at 711-12. Sanjuan's IBP supervisor was aware of his physical problem and restrictions.

Sanjuan testified that after he was assigned to light duty, his supervisors mistreated him by writing him up for disciplinary violations without explaining to Sanjuan (who spoke little English) the substance of the violations to him and by yelling at Sanjuan to return to the flanker job. III App. at 729-30, 731-32. Sanjuan testified that IBP supervisors threatened him if he did not return to the flanker job. III App. at 735-36. At trial, IBP supervisors denied that they mistreated Sanjuan and said that each disciplinary action they took was in response to a mistake in job performance by Sanjuan. II App. at 345.

Among the duties to which Sanjuan was assigned was driving cattle through a chute. This duty required Sanjuan to drive cattle through a chute, using a prod to keep the cattle moving. III App. at 727. On December 23, 1992, Sanjuan was working in the chute when a cow fell down, causing the line of cattle to stop for five minutes. Sanjuan testified that the cow slipped because of moisture in the chute. III App. at 762-64. Doug Bolton, an IBP supervisor, testified that he had seen cattle accidently slip in the chute, and had seen cattle enter the chute covered with snow and mud. IBP supervisors testified that Sanjuan over-shocked the cow with the cattle prod. II App. at 451. IBP contends that Sanjuan had been warned about over-shocking the cattle prior to the December 23, 1992, incident. However, Sanjuan testified that he had not been warned about over-shocking cattle.

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Following the December 23 incident, Ron Christy, an IBP supervisor, made a written disciplinary report on Sanjuan. IV App. at 1092. After reviewing the report on the December 23, 1992, incident and noting that Sanjuan's record contained two previous written warnings, 4 the IBP Personnel Manager, Minh Duong, decided to discharge Sanjuan. Duong had knowledge that Sanjuan had been injured while working for IBP. II App. at 545. IBP terminated Sanjuan's employment on December 23, 1992. IV App. at 1092. Sanjuan was never disciplined prior to his work-related injury for job performance. III App. at 592; II App. at 211-12.

Sanjuan brought suit on December 12, 1994, alleging retaliatory termination of his employment. Before trial, IBP filed a motion in limine to exclude: (1) evidence that IBP personnel directors had heard complaints from other employees that IBP mistreats injured workers; (2) evidence of IBP's accident-free incentive programs; and (3) evidence of IBP's "cost per injury" goals for work injuries. I App. at 28-29. The district court made a preliminary ruling excluding the evidence. However, at trial, the court allowed Sanjuan's counsel to question Duong on other employees' complaints and the accident-free incentive program, over IBP's objection. III App. at 571, 583, 586. Duong testified that he had heard some complaints from employees about a practice of IBP harassing and mistreating injured employees. III App. at 583. Duong also testified that as part of the accident-free incentive program, groups of employees would receive prizes if no injuries were reported in the group for a period of time. III App. at 587. Sanjuan's counsel introduced testimony from Doug Bolton, another IBP supervisor, who said that IBP had set a specific annual goal that is an average cost of workers' compensation for all employees. III App. at 681-82. Bolton said that he had been informed that upper extremity injuries were costly to IBP. Id.

The jury found for Sanjuan and awarded him damages in the amount of $19,074 for lost past wages, $928 for loss of past fringe benefits, and the sum of $19,074 for embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress, for a total recovery of $39,076. I App. at 166. The jury did not award punitive damages. The judgment entered on this verdict is the subject of the appeal by IBP.

DISCUSSION

A

Whether the District Court Erred in Denying IBP's Motion for

a New Trial Because Evidence Admitted Over

Objection Supporting the Jury Verdict In

Favor of Sanjuan Was Inadmissible.

IBP argues that its Rule 59 motion for a new trial should have been granted because the district court erred in allowing the jury to hear evidence of (1) complaints by other employees; (2) IBP's accident-free incentive program; and (3) IBP's workers' compensation cost goals. IBP contends the evidence was inadmissible because it was irrelevant, its probative value outweighed by its prejudicial effect, and it constituted hearsay and impermissible character evidence.

We review denial of a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Unit Drilling Co. v. Enron Oil & Gas Co., 108 F.3d 1186, 1193 (10th Cir.1997); Patton v. TIC United Corp., 77 F.3d 1235 (10th Cir.1996), cert. denied, 518 U.S. 1005, 116 S.Ct. 2525...

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