293 F.3d 1041 (8th Cir. 2002), 01-1146, Ross v. Kansas City Power & Light Co.

Docket Nº:01-1146, 01-1244.
Citation:293 F.3d 1041
Party Name:Norman A. ROSS, Appellee/Cross-Appellant, v. KANSAS CITY POWER & LIGHT COMPANY, Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Case Date:June 10, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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293 F.3d 1041 (8th Cir. 2002)

Norman A. ROSS, Appellee/Cross-Appellant,

v.

KANSAS CITY POWER & LIGHT COMPANY, Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 01-1146, 01-1244.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 10, 2002

Submitted: Dec. 12, 2001.

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J. Randall Coffey, argued, Kansas City, MO (R. Lawrence Ward and Robert Gingrich, Kansas City, MO, on the brief), for appellant.

Dennis E. Egan, argued, Kansas City, MO (Bert S. Braud, Kansas City, MO, John M. Klamann and Dirk L. Hubbard, Overland Park, KS, on the brief), for appellee.

Before MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, BEAM, and RILEY, Circuit Judges.

BEAM, Circuit Judge.

Kansas City Power & Light Company (KCPLC) appeals the jury verdict entered in favor of Norman Ross in this 42 U.S.C. § 1981 employment discrimination claim. We affirm in part, and reverse in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Ross, a black male, began working for KCPLC in 1979 as a "plant helper," and became a Meter Reader in 1980. Ross worked in that capacity for eighteen years. In 1988, Ross obtained a bachelor's degree in Systems Management from Rockhurst College. After receiving his degree, he also took additional computer classes from a community college. In 1998, he was temporarily promoted to the "CIS Plus Project" which involved testing KCPLC's "Y2K" software. In June 1999 he became a computer applications coordinator, and at the time of trial, he had been recently promoted to a programmer analyst.

At KCPLC, employees could apply for a promotion through either the Position Opportunity Program (POP) or the union bidding procedure, depending on the type of job. The POP was designed to allow in-house workers to apply for job openings within KCPLC. Under the POP, once an employee applies for a position, the application is reviewed by the human resources department to determine if an applicant meets the minimum qualifications for the position. If the minimum qualifications are met, the application is passed along for the interview process. Application for a union position was governed by the union bidding procedure as set forth in the collective bargaining agreement between KCPLC and the electrical workers union, the details of which are immaterial to our discussion of this case.

Although Ross applied for several promotions prior to bringing this action in 1998 the only two positions relevant to our discussion are the service coordinator position, and the business systems analyst position. In June 1997, Ross applied for the service coordinator position, which was a posted union position. A service coordinator acts as KCPLC's project manager for new installations or for modification of

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electrical service. The bid notice set forth the minimum job qualifications and required applicants to forward proof of completion of relevant courses or equivalent experience with their bids. Ross did not receive this position, ostensibly because he did not have the minimum educational qualifications (two practical electricity courses) for the position. Instead, Mary Follin and Russell Wiley were selected as service coordinators. Follin had only taken one of the required practical electricity courses but instead was allowed to substitute equivalent classes to satisfy this requirement.

In December 1998, Ross applied for a business systems analyst position, posted through the POP program. The duties of this position included performing systems analysis design and testing, providing user training and support, and maintaining business systems databases. Ross's application was passed along by the human resources department for an interview with Ken Geier, the decision-maker for this position. Ross testified on cross-examination that after the interview, he sent Geier an email to clarify that the extent of his programming experience was on the "educational side" and not the "applied side." Geier ultimately selected Glenda Schnetzer for this position, apparently because of her superior qualifications.

In June 1998, Ross filed this action, alleging racial harassment, failure to promote, and retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment with respect to the harassment and retaliation claims, and left the failure to promote claims for the jury. At trial, the district court denied KCPLC's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JAML) and submitted five promotion claims-computer records administrator, computer applications coordinator, programmer analyst, service coordinator and business systems analyst-to the jury. The jury returned verdicts in favor of KCPLC on the first three positions and for Ross on the remaining two. The jury awarded Ross $6,000 in actual damages and $750,000 in punitive damages for the service coordinator position, and $10,000 in actual damages and $750,000 in punitive damages for the business systems analyst position. Following post-trial motions, the district court reduced the punitive damages awards to $120,000 and $200,000 respectively, and set attorney fees and costs.

On appeal, KCPLC argues that JAML should have been granted prior to jury submission because Ross was not as qualified as the successful applicants for the positions in question. Ross cross appeals, arguing for reinstatement of the punitive damages award or the choice of a new trial on damages. Ross also appeals the amount of the district court's award of attorney fees and costs. Finally, Ross conditionally appeals the district court's grant of partial summary judgment, to be considered only if we reverse any part of the favorable jury verdict.

II. DISCUSSION

This court reviews the denial of a JAML de novo. Feltmann v. Sieben, 108 F.3d 970, 974 (8th Cir. 1997). We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and give him the benefit of all reasonable inferences. Id. In an employment discrimination case, a court must render JAML when there is no legally sufficient basis for a "rational factfinder" to conclude the employer intentionally discriminated. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 148, 120 S.Ct. 2097,147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000).

Because there was no direct evidence of discrimination here, we apply the burden shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Yates v. Rexton, Inc.,

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267 F.3d 793, 799 (8th Cir. 2001) (there is direct evidence of discrimination only when there is specific link between challenged employment action and the alleged animus). To raise a presumption of discrimination in this failure-to-promote case, Ross must show that (1) he is a member of a protected group; (2) he was qualified and applied for an available position; (3) he was rejected; and (4) employees similarly situated but not part of the protected group were promoted instead. Shannon v. Ford Motor Co., 72 F.3d 678, 682 (8th Cir. 1996). Once Ross establishes the prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to KCPLC, who must rebut the presumption of discrimination with evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Ross's rejection. Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 254, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). If KCPLC meets that burden, Ross may win by proffering evidence that KCPLC's reason was a pretext for intentional discrimination. Shannon, 72 F.3d at 682.

1. Service Coordinator Position

KCPLC argues the district court erred in refusing to grant JAML on the service coordinator position. KCPLC argues that Ross was not qualified for this...

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