303 F.3d 387 (1st Cir. 2002), 01-2732, Crowley v. L.L. Bean, Inc.

Docket Nº:01-2732.
Citation:303 F.3d 387
Party Name:Eileen CROWLEY, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. L.L. BEAN, INC., Defendant, Appellant.
Case Date:September 19, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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303 F.3d 387 (1st Cir. 2002)

Eileen CROWLEY, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

L.L. BEAN, INC., Defendant, Appellant.

No. 01-2732.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 19, 2002

        Heard July 31, 2002.

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        Peter J. Brann with whom Daniel A. .Nazi, Kevin J. Beal and Brann & Isaacson were on brief for appellant.

        Rebecca S.K. Webber with whom Linnell, Choate & Webber were on brief for appellee.

        Julie L. Gantz with whom Nicholas M. Inzeo, Acting Deputy General Counsel, Philip B. Sklover, Associate General Counsel, Vincent J. Blackwood, Assistant General Counsel, and Susan L.P. Starr were on brief for amicus curiae Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

        Before .SELMA, Circuit Judge, JOHN R. GIBSON[*] and GREENBERG,[**] Senior Circuit Judges.

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        GREENBERG, Circuit Judge.

        This matter comes on before this court on defendant-appellant L.L. Bean's appeal from the district court's order entered November 8, 2001, denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the order of the district court and uphold the jury verdict in favor of plaintiff-appellee Eileen Crowley.

         I. BACKGROUND

        We briefly describe the facts at the outset, but discuss them in greater detail where applicable and essential to explain our determinations. Since 1992, Crowley has worked for L.L. Bean, a major catalog retailer based in Freeport, Maine, specializing in outdoor apparel and merchandise. In 1996, she began working as an "order picker operator" in L.L. Bean's warehouses and in this capacity drove 22,000-pound forklift-like machines called transtackers that collect merchandise for packing and shifting. Crowley claims that from 1996 until July 1998, her co-worker, Paul Juhl, stalked and harassed her.

        Evidence at trial supported a conclusion that during the period involved, Juhl engaged in disturbing and sometimes peculiar behavior around Crowley, including grabbing her foot and massaging it against her will at an L.L. Bean pool party, continually following her at work even when they were not scheduled to work in the same warehouse, physically blocking her path and thereby forcing her to squeeze by him, giving her gifts designed to let her know that he was watching her, dancing in the aisles near her, waiting in the dark for her to come upon him, following her home, and even breaking into her house. Crowley reported most of these incidents to her team leaders or supervisors, but she claims that L.L. Bean did not take timely effective action to protect her from Juhl and therefore maintained a hostile work environment. L.L. Bean finally terminated Juhl's employment, but did so only after Crowley obtained a permanent court protection order against Juhl in July 1998.

        On December 21, 1998, Crowley filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and the Maine Human Rights Commission, claiming that L.L. Bean had engaged in sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Maine Human Rights Act, Me. Rev.Stat. Ann. tit. 5, § 4572 (West 2002). After the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter and the Maine Human Rights Commission determined that L.L. Bean had not engaged in either sex discrimination or retaliation, Crowley filed her complaint in the district court on June 22, 2000, asserting that L.L. Bean had engaged in sex discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Maine Human Rights Act predicated on her assertion that she had been subjected to a hostile work environment.

        The jury trial began on June 5, 2001, and concluded on June 11, 2001.1 L.L. Bean moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 at the conclusion of Crowley's case-in-chief and renewed the motion after both parties rested. Before submitting the case to the jury, the court partially granted the motion but only as to Crowley's claim for punitive damages under the Maine Human Rights Act.

        After one day of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict on June 13, 2001, finding that L.L. Bean had violated Title VII by sexually discriminating against Crowley

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through acts occurring on or after February 24, 1998. The February 24, 1998 date was critical because Crowley filed her EEOC claim 300 days after that date and she was required to file the charge within the 300-day period for it to be timely.2The jury also found that the unlawful discrimination was the result of a systemic violation, but not of a serial violation. The jury found, however, that L.L. Bean had not violated the Maine Human Rights Act by sexually discriminating against Crowley through acts occurring on or after June 22, 1998. The June 22, 1998 date was applicable because the Maine Human Rights Act has a two-year statute of limitations, and Crowley initiated this action on June 22, 2000. See Me.Rev.Stat. Ann. tit. 5, § 4613(2)(C) (West 2002). Finally, the jury awarded Crowley $215,000 in compensatory damages, but denied her any punitive damages.

        On June 26, 2001, L.L. Bean filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 and 59. On November 8, 2001, the district court denied the motion and entered an amended final judgment. On December 3, 2001, L.L. Bean filed a notice of appeal.

         II. JURISDICTION AND STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Jurisdiction

        The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367, and we have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

         B. Standard of Review

        To the extent that L.L. Bean appeals from the district court's denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law, our review of the district court's ruling is plenary, and we must apply the same standard that the district court applied in considering the motion. See Mangla v. Brown Univ., 135 F.3d 80, 82 (1st Cir. 1998). Accordingly, we must "view the evidence in the light most favorable to [Crowley], drawing all reasonable inferences in [her] favor." McMillan v. Mass. Soc'y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 140 F.3d 288, 299 (1st Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, we must "resolve all credibility issues in favor of the verdict." United States v. Scharon, 187 F.3d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 1999).

        Our review, however, "is weighted toward preservation of the jury verdict," for "we must affirm unless the evidence was so strongly and overwhelmingly inconsistent with the verdicts that no reasonable jury could have returned them." Rodowicz v. Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co., 279 F.3d 36, 41-42 (1st Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted); see also White v. N.H. Dep't of Corr., 221 F.3d 254, 259 (1st Cir. 2000) ("Once a jury returns a verdict, a 'heavy burden' is placed on one who challenges it."). Indeed, we should "not set aside a jury verdict as a matter of law unless there was only one conclusion the jury could have reached," McMillan, 140 F.3d at 299, and that result was contrary to the verdict, see White, 221 F.3d at 259 ("We may reverse only if a reasonable person could not have reached the conclusion of the jury.").

        L.L. Bean argues that in the event that we do not grant it judgment as a matter of law, we should grant it a new trial based on juror bias, erroneous evidentiary rulings, and improper jury instructions. L.L. Bean's motion for a new trial

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in the district court predicated on juror bias was "committed to the discretion of [the] district court." McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 556, 104 S.Ct. 845, 850, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984). Therefore, "[i]n reviewing the district court's denial of appellant's] request for a new trial, we ". . . consider only whether the district court abused its discretion." Dall v. Coffin, 970 F.2d 964, 969 (1st Cir. 1992).

        We review L.L. Bean's challenge of the district court's rulings to exclude or admit testimony primarily on an abuse-of-discretion basis. See Cummings v. Standard Register Co., 265 F.3d 56, 62 (1st Cir. 2001); see also United States v. Sposito, 106 F.3d 1042,1046 (1st Cir. 1997) ("The proper interpretation of the Federal Rules of Evidence is a question of law and is reviewed de novo, but the application of [a rule] . . . is reviewed under an abuse-of-discretion standard.") (citations omitted); United States v. Paulino, 13 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 1994) ("The court of appeals reviews a trial judge's admission of evidence over a hearsay objection only for abuse of discretion."); Alexis v. McDonald's Rests, of Mass., Inc., 67 F.3d 341, 347 (1st Cir. 1995) ("Rulings on the admissibility of lay opinion testimony are reviewed only for manifest abuse of discretion.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, we should reverse the district court's ruling "if we determine that the judge 'committed a meaningful error in judgment.' " Ruiz-Troche v. Pepsi Cola of P.R. Bottling Co., 161 F.3d 77, 83 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 862 F.2d 910, 923 (1st Cir. 1988)).

        Finally, we review de novo L.L. Bean's contention that the district court erroneously instructed the jury on the law relating to systemic violations. See Romano v. U-Haul Int'l, 233 F.3d 655, 665 (1st Cir. 2000), cert. denied, — U.S—, 122 S.Ct. 41, 151 L.Ed.2d 14 (2001). "[T]he giving of [a jury] instruction is reversible error only if it (1) was misleading, unduly complicating, or incorrect as a matter of law, and (2)...

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