590 F.3d 427 (7th Cir. 2009), 08-2877, Lewis v. City of Chicago Police Dept.
|Citation:||590 F.3d 427|
|Opinion Judge:||SIMON, District Judge.|
|Party Name:||Donna L. LEWIS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT, City of Chicago, and Terrence Williams, Defendants-Appellees.|
|Attorney:||Dana L. Kurtz (argued), Kurtz Law Offices, LLC, Lockport, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Jennifer Erickson Baak (argued), City of Chicago Law Department, Chicago, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.|
|Judge Panel:||Before EVANS and SYKES, Circuit Judges, and SIMON, District Judge. |
|Case Date:||December 21, 2009|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit|
Argued Oct. 5, 2009.
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Chicago police officer Donna Lewis claims she was discriminated and retaliated against by the City of Chicago and her supervisor, Lt. Terrence Williams. Her claim was initially borne out of a decision by Williams to deny her request to participate in a special security detail in Washington, D.C. The acorn of that decision has produced an oak tree of litigation. Initially, the district court granted Defendants summary judgment. Lewis appealed that decision and won, in part. This Court reversed and remanded as to her gender discrimination claim against both Defendants and her retaliation claim against the City. Lewis v. City of Chicago (" Lewis I " ), 496 F.3d 645, 656-57 (7th Cir.2007). At the subsequent trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams and the City on both claims. The district court denied Lewis's motion for a new trial, and Lewis appeals. She raises no less than fifteen issues which she claims warrant a remand and a new trial. Finding none of these issues to have merit, we now affirm.
Williams began supervising Lewis, an officer in the tactical unit (" TACT" ), when Williams became the Tactical Lieutenant in the summer of 2002. In September of that year, the Washington, D.C. police department requested other departments to provide officers to assist with a security detail surrounding a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (" IMF" ). Chief James Maurer wrote a memo addressing the IMF detail, announcing that " [b]ecause of hotel accommodations, a lone female officer will not be sent since there are two persons to each room. Therefore, recommend a minimum of two female officers." Assignment to the detail was limited to officers in the TACT, Gang or Special Operations (" SOS" ) units. Chief Maurer testified that even though the memo only referred to females, the actual policy demanded that individual officers could only
be sent if an even number of that person's gender was going, regardless of whether the gender was male or female.
Lewis felt the IMF detail was a good career opportunity and that she met all the requirements. She applied, but her supervisor Williams took her off the list. According to Lewis, Williams told her, " I took your name off the list because you're female" and " the trip was going to be dangerous and a working trip and that you will thank me for it later." Williams denies saying anything of the sort. He says that he removed her from the list because no other females from her district signed up. Lewis lost out on the training experience and some overtime pay.
Shortly after being denied participation in the IMF detail, Lewis filed a grievance over the decision. She says this triggered several acts of retaliation including being ordered to investigate a CAPS complaint by herself. CAPS complaints are initiated by citizens and are investigated by the police department. Williams told her, " [I]f you feel like you need an assist, get a car off the watch." Lewis says this was a sarcastic remark, implying that if she couldn't handle the assignment by herself, she should call over the radio for a uniformed officer to assist. Lewis investigated the complaint and later filled out a report that she says her supervisors repeatedly rejected without reason. The supervisors claim it was rejected because it was incomplete.
Another act of retaliation, according to Lewis, occurred on October 4, 2002, when Williams instructed Lewis's car to respond to a " shots fired" call. Lewis and the two other officers in the car with her were already in the process of responding to the call. They conducted the investigation without incident.
In January 2003, Williams transferred Lewis from the TACT to the Gang unit, reassigning her to a new partner. This was another act of retaliation according to Lewis. Lewis learned that her new partner, Macon, was known to want a transfer out of the unit and was less eager to conduct aggressive police work. The reassignment afforded what Lewis felt were fewer chances for overtime and more desirable assignments. She was later reassigned to another partner after Officer Macon moved to a different unit.
Lewis then requested a transfer to the SOS unit, which would have placed her outside of Williams's supervision. That request was denied by Chief Maurer, along with the request of three other officers from Lewis's district who requested transfers to the SOS unit at around the same time. In fact, only two of ten total applicants during that period were accepted into the SOS unit.
On March 12, 2003, Williams received notice that Lewis had filed an EEOC charge concerning the IMF detail and her claims of retaliation. The next day, Lewis was in her squad car responding to a burglary-in-progress call when a voice Lewis claims belonged to Williams came on the radio and ordered her to assist with a narcotics team operation. While assisting the narcotics team with a forced entry, Lewis was hit in the head with a sledge-hammer by another officer. She suffered a fractured neck and is now on a permanent disability leave. The sledgehammer struck Lewis while in the other officer's backswing. There is no indication that the incident was anything other than an accident. Lewis believes that being ordered to assist the narcotics team was another example of her being put in dangerous situations by Williams in retaliation for her filing the EEOC charge.
Lewis has four broad categories of complaints about how her trial was conducted.
She believes that the jury was given incorrect instructions on the law, that there were several evidentiary errors, that the City's closing argument was prejudicial and that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to have found for the Defendants. We take each up in turn.
A. Jury Instructions
Lewis makes a total of seven challenges to the jury instructions. We start with a general discussion of the law governing challenges to jury instructions and then move to Lewis's specific issues. We review challenges to jury instructions de novo and afford the district court " substantial discretion with respect to the precise wording of instructions so long as the final result, read as a whole, completely and correctly states the law." United States v. Gibson, 530 F.3d 606, 609 (7th Cir.2008). When it comes to potentially confusing or misleading instructions, the reviewing court is to first ask if " the correct message was conveyed to the jury reasonably well." Dawson v. New York Life Ins. Co., 135 F.3d 1158, 1165 (7th Cir.1998). This inquiry is done by examining the instructions as a whole, in a common sense manner, avoiding nitpicking. Id. If the instructions fail in this regard, a new trial is appropriate only if the instruction prejudiced the complaining party. Id.
When a party fails to object to an instruction, the court will reverse only if there was a " plain error affecting substantial rights." FED.R.CIV.P. 51(d)(2) (2008). Plain error review of jury instructions is " particularly light-handed." United States v. DiSantis, 565 F.3d 354, 361 (7th Cir.2009) (quoting United States v. Griffin, 84 F.3d 912, 925 (7th Cir.1996)).
1. Blending of Discrimination and Retaliation Instructions
The final set of instructions read to the jury included separate instructions for the discrimination and retaliation claims. Lewis maintains that certain aspects of the instructions could have confused the jurors into incorrectly thinking that Lewis had to prove discrimination and retaliation to prevail on her retaliation claim.
The discrimination instruction came first, and it outlined the various elements of Lewis's discrimination claim. The next two pages of instructions contained short paragraphs introducing general retaliation law. Following that came five paragraphs making up the retaliation instruction. The first two paragraphs of the retaliation instruction read as follows:
Plaintiff claims that she was singled out for more dangerous assignments, singled out for adverse treatment about her job performance, moved from her partner and her team, and/or refused to transfer her, and/or directed her to more dangerous calls by Defendant City of Chicago, through its agents because she complained about gender discrimination.
Plaintiff must also prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant City of Chicago singled her out for more dangerous assignments, singled her out for adverse treatment about her job performance, moved her from her partner and her team, and/or refused to transfer her, and/or directed her to more dangerous calls because she complained of gender discrimination. To determine that Plaintiff Lewis was singled out for more dangerous assignments, singled out for adverse treatment about her job performance, moved from her partner and her team, and/or refused to transfer her, and/or directed her to more dangerous calls because she complained of gender discrimination, you must decide that Defendant City of Chicago would not have singled her out for more dangerous...
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