396 F.3d 1088 (10th Cir. 2005), 03-2265, Chavez v. Thomas & Betts Corp.

Docket Nº:03-2265, 03-2274, 03-2304.
Citation:396 F.3d 1088
Party Name:Deanne Whatley CHAVEZ, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, v. THOMAS & BETTS CORPORATION and Patricia Marrujo, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.
Case Date:January 24, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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396 F.3d 1088 (10th Cir. 2005)

Deanne Whatley CHAVEZ, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,

v.

THOMAS & BETTS CORPORATION and Patricia Marrujo, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Nos. 03-2265, 03-2274, 03-2304.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 24, 2005

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Kenneth A. Jenero (Todd D. Steenson, with him on the briefs) Holland & Knight, L.L.P., Chicago, IL, for Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees.

Paul J. Kennedy (Mary Y.C. Han, with him on the briefs) Kennedy & Han, P.C., Albuquerque, NM, for Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Before MURPHY, BALDOCK, and TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judges.

BALDOCK, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Deanne Whatley Chavez sued her former employer Defendant Thomas & Betts Corp. (T & B) and former supervisor Defendant Patricia Marrujo (Marrujo), among others, alleging violations of (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, (2) the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2611 to 2654 (FMLA), (3) the New Mexico Human Rights Act, and (4) New Mexico tort law. The district court granted T & B's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's FMLA claim and her state tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, but denied summary judgment on all other claims. The case proceeded to trial.

After a one-week jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff on her: (1) claim against T & B for sexual discrimination and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the New Mexico Human Rights Act; (2) claim against T & B for negligent retention and supervision; and (3) claims against Marrujo for assault and battery. The jury awarded Plaintiff a total of $145,625 in compensatory damages and $354,375 in punitive damages against T & B. The jury also awarded Plaintiff $20,750 in compensatory damages and $3,250 in punitive damages against Marrujo. The jury rejected Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim. The district court entered a final judgment. Thereafter, the district court denied T & B and Marrujo's post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and 59(a), (e). The court subsequently awarded Plaintiff her attorney's fees and costs.

T & B and Marrujo appeal from the district court's denial of their post-trial motions and order awarding Plaintiff attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiff cross-appeals the district court's dismissal of her FMLA claim on summary judgment. We

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consolidated the appeals. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and affirm.

I. Background

The historical facts, construed in a light most favorable to the jury verdict, are as follows: T & B owns and operates a manufacturing facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Plaintiff was employed at T & B from 1987 to 2001. Marrujo, Plaintiff's coworker, was promoted to a supervisory position in April, 2000.1 Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges she suffered harassment when Marrujo humiliated her in front of coworkers, made inappropriate remarks towards her, and physically assaulted her.

Specifically, Plaintiff testified that Marrujo often made humiliating comments about her in front of men regarding Plaintiff's "body parts," whom Plaintiff had sex with, how they had sex, and "what kinds of toys [they] used." Further, Marrujo frequently called men over to guess what kind of underwear Plaintiff was wearing and to determine whether they could see through Plaintiff's pants and shirt. Marrujo also encouraged men to harass Plaintiff. At one time, Marrujo wanted to know if Plaintiff's "hair color matched [her] pubic hair." As a result, a male coworker approached Plaintiff and offered her $100 to see her pubic hair.

Plaintiff explained that sometime in May or June, 2000, Marrujo exclaimed Plaintiff's "bra is probably prettier than mine," and then reached over and pulled open Plaintiff's shirt exposing her chest and bra to coworkers. Plaintiff quickly closed her shirt and felt "humiliated" and "embarrassed." Thereafter in June, 2000, Marrujo came up behind Plaintiff and pulled open Plaintiff's pants exposing her underwear to coworkers. In response, a male coworker exclaimed "[g]osh, you have a hairy back." Again, Plaintiff felt humiliated. Roxanne Mussleman, a T & B supervisor, was working in front of Plaintiff when Marrujo pulled open Plaintiff's pants, but did not report Marrujo's conduct. Further, Plaintiff explained that T & B supervisors were often "around" when Marrujo harassed her but failed to intervene or report Marrujo's conduct.

Plaintiff's coworkers, Irene Armijo and Barbara Garcia, testified that Marrujo regularly directed sexually charged, humiliating, and hostile comments towards women in the workplace. Armijo explained that Marrujo repeatedly made derogatory comments about women such as "[if] you needed to find some guy, [g]o look for him over there at Irene's press. He's probably ... sucking [her] titty." Marrujo made other similar comments to other women in the workplace. Garcia testified that Marrujo was very hostile and "bitter" towards women in general. According to Garcia, Marrujo would regularly classify women as "bitches" while she was much more congenial towards men in the workplace.

Plaintiff reported Marrujo's inappropriate behavior to T & B supervisors, production managers, the human resource department, and the plant manager to no avail. In particular, Plaintiff first complained to her production supervisor, Bob Romo. Romo told Plaintiff to go to T & B's human resource department. In July, 2000, Plaintiff reported Marrujo's conduct to, among others, T & B's human resource manager, Sam Rusbridge, and to T & B's plant manager, Larry Smith. According to Plaintiff, Rusbridge was indifferent to her complaint. T & B's human resource

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department told Plaintiff they would conduct an investigation. T & B, however, did not conduct any credible investigation until months later. Larry Smith told Plaintiff he "knew" what was going on and would take care of the problem. On July 28, 2000, Marrujo voluntarily transferred to a different shift. Larry Smith told Plaintiff Marrujo was transferred for disciplinary reasons. Marrujo, however, denied her transfer had anything to do with Plaintiff's allegations and explained her transfer was a unilateral decision. When Plaintiff's efforts to notify T & B's management proved futile, she attempted to contact T & B's national office to lodge a complaint. The national office, however, did not respond to Plaintiff's complaints.

Plaintiff was not the only T & B employee to complain of Marrujo's conduct. Barbara Garcia testified she complained to T & B's human resource department that Marrujo was very "hostile" towards women, but T & B failed to do anything to remedy the situation. Plaintiff also introduced into evidence two memoranda written by Bob Romo, a T & B production supervisor, addressed to T & B's human resource manager, Sam Rusbridge, and T & B's plant manager, Larry Smith. (Plaintiff's Ex. 14 & 44). The memoranda expressly warned T & B management that Marrujo's conduct was "unacceptable" and her "continuance in [a] supervisory position would only be detrimental to our facility and to the well being of our future." (Plaintiff's Ex. 44). The memoranda also notified T & B management that Marrujo's conduct had caused one employee to lodge a sexual harassment complaint, suggested that Marrujo's presence undermined T & B's efforts to maintain a "safe" and "healthy" work environment, and ultimately recommended Marrujo's termination. (Plaintiff's Ex. 14). Marrujo was not disciplined or terminated.

In January, 2001, Plaintiff heard a rumor that Marrujo might transfer back to her original shift. Concerned, Plaintiff took medical and personal leave. In mid-April, 2001, Plaintiff requested additional leave under the FMLA. T & B informed Plaintiff the necessary paperwork for her FMLA request would have to be submitted no later than April 30, 2001. Plaintiff, however, did not submit the proper forms until May 8, 2001. On May 2, 2001, T & B terminated Plaintiff for failing to report or call-in to work for three consecutive work days under its employment policy.

II. No. 03-2265: Defendants' Direct Appeal

T & B and Marrujo appeal the district court's denial of their post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, for new trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and 59(a), (e). In particular, T & B and Marrujo contest, among other things, sufficiency of the evidence, jury instructions, damages, and evidentiary rulings. We review de novo the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law. See Sheets v. Salt Lake County, 45 F.3d 1383, 1387 (10th Cir. 1995). To overturn the denial of a Rule 50(b) motion, "we must conclude that viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the evidence and all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom point but one way, in favor of the moving party." Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). We review the denial of a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Sanjuan v. IBP, Inc., 160 F.3d 1291, 1296 (10th Cir. 1998).

A. Title VII Sexual Harassment

Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment

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because of her sex. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a) (1). Same-sex harassment arising from a hostile work environment is actionable under Title VII if the plaintiff can "prove that the conduct at issue was not merely tinged with offensive sexual connotations, but actually...

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