218 F.3d 915 (8th Cir. 2000), 99-2956, Clark v. Runyon

Docket Nº:99-2956
Citation:218 F.3d 915
Party Name:APRIL M. CLARK, APPELLANT, v. MARVIN T. RUNYON, JR., IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS POSTMASTER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, APPELLEE.
Case Date:July 27, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 915

218 F.3d 915 (8th Cir. 2000)

APRIL M. CLARK, APPELLANT,

v.

MARVIN T. RUNYON, JR., IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS POSTMASTER GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, APPELLEE.

No. 99-2956

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 27, 2000

Submitted: June 15, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

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Before Muprhy, Heaney and Magill, Circuit Judges.

Magill, Circuit Judge.

April Clark filed suit against the United States Postal Service (USPS), alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII. After a six-day trial, the jury deliberated for fifty-five minutes and found for the USPS; however, Clark's motion for a new trial was granted. In the second trial, Clark waived her right to a jury trial, and the district court 1 proceeded with a bench trial. The district court granted the USPS motion for judgment as a matter of law. Clark appeals the waiver of the right to a jury trial and the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law. We AFFIRM.

I.

Clark, an African-American woman, was a mail clerk for the USPS from 1985 until June 24, 1996. On that date, two supervisors, Michael Tiemann and Enid Walters, fired Clark for violations of the USPS anti-violence policy, known as the "zero-tolerance" policy. The termination was a direct result of an altercation Clark had with white employees on March 27, 1996.

Clark has a long history of problems with the USPS. In 1993, Clark was hospitalized against her will by her own psychiatrist

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because Clark had verbally and physically assaulted a number of her co-workers. In 1994, Clark was disciplined for throwing a package at a fellow USPS employee and threatening another with bodily harm. 2 Again, in 1994, Clark was disciplined for punching a fellow employee. In 1995 Clark left her employment with the USPS. After a union grievance was filed, Clark returned to work on March 7, 1996. In order to facilitate a fresh start, Clark was assigned to the Annex, a separate facility on the outskirts of Minneapolis.

At the Annex, Clark worked with six temporary employees, five of whom happened to be white. Shortly after starting at the Annex, Clark began to complain about the music played by some of the white employees. On both March 19 and March 21, Clark complained to her fellow employees about their choice of music, and, on the second date, took matters into her own hands and turned off the radio. At this point, Tiemann informed Clark that there was zero tolerance for threats or violence, and that if Clark threatened another employee she would be terminated.

On March 27, 1996, Clark got into a heated argument with Chromey, one of her fellow employees. After Chromey called Clark lazy, Clark accused Chromey of being a racist and then threatened Chromey with bodily harm. Chromey complained to Nielsen, a supervisor, who took Clark to Tiemann's office. While waiting for Tiemann to arrive, Clark admits that she threatened to beat the white employees. When Tiemann arrived, he placed Clark on leave.

On March 29, 1996, during an administrative hearing, Clark stated the threats were funny and responded "no comment" to questioning about the threats. Then, on May 15, 1996, Tiemann and Walters gave notice to Clark that she was to be terminated. Finally, on June 24, 1996, Clark was terminated.

In a complaint filed October 24, 1996, Clark asserted race and sex discrimination in the numerous disciplinary actions that had been taken against her. Judge Kyle dismissed all of Clark's claims except the racial discrimination claim for the discharge related to the March 27, 1996 incident. On May 5, 1998, Judge O'Brien conducted a jury trial, which resulted in a verdict for the USPS. On December 28, 1998, Judge O'Brien granted Clark's motion for a new trial. On April 23, 1999, Judge Kyle, again presiding over this case, after counsel for both parties agreed, entered an order for a bench trial. On May 7, 1999, Clark waived her right to a jury trial both orally and in writing. At that hearing Judge Kyle stated, "I said I have some reservations about [not granting summary judgment]. I haven't said there is no genuine issue of material fact." Plaintiff's counsel then asserted that trial was necessary, to which Judge Kyle agreed. Even after the court stated this reservation, Clark again reiterated her waiver of her right to trial by jury. Beginning on May 25, 1999, the district court conducted a two-day bench trial. At the close of Clark's argument, the USPS filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law. The same day judgment as a matter of law was entered in favor of the USPS. This appeal followed.

II.

First, Clark argues that the district court erred by not informing her that it had reservations about her claim prior to accepting her waiver of a jury...

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