757 F.3d 1198 (11th Cir. 2014), 12-13389, Booth v. Pasco County

Docket Nº:12-13389, 12-14194
Citation:757 F.3d 1198
Opinion Judge:ANDERSON, Circuit Judge
Party Name:ANTHONY BOOTH, JERRY BROWN, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL 4420, d.b.a. Pasco County Professional Firefighters, Defendants-Appellees. ANTHONY BOOTH, JERRY BROWN, Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross Appellants, v. PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA, Defendant-Cross Appellee, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FI
Attorney:For ANTHONY BOOTH, JERRY BROWN, Plaintiffs - Appellants (12-13389): Cynthia N. Sass, Yvette Denise Everhart, Janet Ellen Wise, Law Offices of Cynthia N. Sass, PA, TAMPA, FL; John Clark Davis, Law Office of John C. Davis, TALLAHASSEE, FL. For PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA, Defendant - Appellee (12-13389):...
Judge Panel:Before MARTIN and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and FULLER,[*] District Judge.
Case Date:July 03, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1198

757 F.3d 1198 (11th Cir. 2014)

ANTHONY BOOTH, JERRY BROWN, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL 4420, d.b.a. Pasco County Professional Firefighters, Defendants-Appellees.

ANTHONY BOOTH, JERRY BROWN, Plaintiffs-Appellees-Cross Appellants,

v.

PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA, Defendant-Cross Appellee,

INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL 4420, d.b.a. Pasco County Professional Firefighters, Defendant-Appellant-Cross Appellee

Nos. 12-13389, 12-14194

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 3, 2014

Page 1199

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D.C. Docket No. 8:09-cv-02621-JSM-TBM. D.C. Docket No. 8:09-cv-02621-JSM-TBM.

For ANTHONY BOOTH, JERRY BROWN, Plaintiffs - Appellants (12-13389): Cynthia N. Sass, Yvette Denise Everhart, Janet Ellen Wise, Law Offices of Cynthia N. Sass, PA, TAMPA, FL; John Clark Davis, Law Office of John C. Davis, TALLAHASSEE, FL.

For PASCO COUNTY, FLORIDA, Defendant - Appellee (12-13389): Tracey K. Jaensch, Dennis A. Creed, III, FordHarrison LLP, TAMPA, FL.

For INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL 4420, d.b.a. Pasco County Professional Firefighters, Defendant - Appellee (12-13389): Paul A. Donnelly, Laura A. Gross, Jung Yoon, Donnelly & Gross, PA, GAINESVILLE, FL.

For Anthony Booth, Jerry Brown, Plaintiffs - Appellees-Cross Appellants (12-14194): Yvette Denise Everhart, Cynthia N. Sass, Janet Ellen Wise, Law Offices of Cynthia N. Sass, PA, Tampa, FL; Kathleen D. Kirwin, Law Office of Kathleen D. Kirwin, Sarasota, FL.

For International Association of Firefighters Local 4420, d.b.a.: Pasco County Professional Firefighters, Defendant - Appellant-Cross Appellee (12-14194): Paul A. Donnelly, Laura A. Gross, Andy J. Ingram, Jung Yoon, Donnelly & Gross, PA, Gainesville, FL; Christopher B. Deem, GrayRobinson, PA, Tampa, FL.

For Pasco County, Florida (12-14194): Tracey K. Jaensch, Dennis A. Creed III, FordHarrison LLP, Tampa, FL.

Before MARTIN and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and FULLER,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

Page 1200

ANDERSON, Circuit Judge

Anthony Booth and Jerry Brown (together " Plaintiffs" ) are employees of the Emergency Services Department (" Department" ) in Pasco County, Florida (" County" ), and members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 4420 (" Union" ). Plaintiffs sued the County and the Union claiming violations of Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act.1 The case went to trial on Plaintiffs' retaliation claims. A jury returned verdicts against both defendants.

The district court subsequently granted the County's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the ground that there was insufficient evidence of a retaliatory motive. The court also denied Plaintiffs' motion

Page 1201

for a new trial against the County. Plaintiffs appeal both of these decisions.

The district court denied the Union's motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial or reduction of the damages awarded against it. The Union appeals that decision. Plaintiffs cross-appeal the district court's refusal to award equitable relief against the Union.2

For the following reasons, we reverse the district court's entry of judgment in favor of the County and affirm in all other respects.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

We recount a relevant subset of the facts established at trial.

A. Plaintiffs' Grievances About Their Supervisor

Booth and Brown were Department emergency-services workers assigned to Station 14. In June 2007, Booth filed a Department grievance against the captain who supervised the station. The captain's boss had warned Booth that he would be transferred if he filed a grievance, and Booth was in fact transferred, against his wishes, pending investigation.

In his grievance, Booth named Brown as a witness. The station captain allegedly threatened Brown as a result, causing Brown to file a grievance of his own in July 2007.

B. The County's Response to Plaintiffs' Grievances

In November 2007, the offending captain was disciplined and transferred out of Station 14. Booth returned to Station 14, but he was assigned, against his wishes, to work on an ambulance rather than a fire engine. Coworkers who had submitted written statements on Booth's behalf had been transferred out of Station 14, and the only coworker who had not submitted a written statement remained. Brown was transferred to another station that was physically unpleasant and in a state of some disrepair. All of these reassignments were for a minimum of six months. Department officials testified that these reassignments were part of an attempt to address a " country club" atmosphere that predated the subject of Plaintiffs' grievances.

Plaintiffs and their coworkers believed the transfers to be retaliatory. They complained to the County and sought help from the Union, to no avail. On April 11, 2008, Plaintiffs filed charges against the County and the Union with both the EEOC and the Florida Commission on Human Rights (" FCHR" ). In the charges, Plaintiffs complained about the actions of their former captain, as well as the County's and the Union's responses to their internal complaints.

C. The Union's " Update on Legal Issues" Memo

Union President Ralph Grant subsequently received unsolicited phone calls about a rumored lawsuit against the Union and the identity of the parties involved. Grant testified that the membership generally demanded to be told about legal matters in which the Union was involved. He said that he wanted to respond to the rumors and to inform the members about the situation, the Union's position, the Union's plan, and the potential costs.3

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On April 21, 2008, Grant emailed Department Chief Anthony Lopinto asking him to forward an attached memorandum (" Memo" ) to all members of the Union's bargaining unit, nearly all of whom were Union members,4 pursuant to a prior agreement between the Union and the County regarding distribution of Union communications. The subject line of Grant's email was " Discrimination." 5 The title of the Memo was " Update on Legal Issues." Grant had previously had the Memo reviewed by the Union's attorneys. At trial, he testified that he had talked to an attorney about how to respond to Plaintiffs' charges. At a prior deposition, however, he testified that he did not recall being advised on whether to comment on Plaintiffs' charges.6

The same day, Chief Lopinto forwarded the Memo to County Personnel Chief Barbara DeSimone and Department Personnel Chief Cynthia Holland for review. The following day, on April 22, DeSimone emailed Grant and asked him to make edits to portions that did not discuss Plaintiffs. DeSimone said that Grant could then forward the Memo to Lopinto for dissemination. Two days later, on April 24, Grant emailed a revised copy of the Memo to DeSimone. In the body of the email, he asked DeSimone to " [c]heck this and let me know. I think our members have a right to know about the charges two of their peers are making against both the Union and the County." The record does not reveal whether DeSimone responded to this email.

One day later, on April 25, Chief Lopinto emailed the revised Memo to station email addresses, where it could be accessed by Department employees working at each station. An unknown person, or persons, also posted the Memo on at least some station bulletin boards with Plaintiffs' names highlighted. The Memo read, in relevant part, as follows:7

FLSA Lawsuit

. . . [A]ll those entitled to back-pay will be receiving 150% of what is owed from June 14, 2005. . . . ULP on Cody Study . . . [W]e know that there are some members that have expressed concern that their back-pay calculations may be wrong. Those concerns should be submitted to the union. . . . ULP on Impasse Hearing Cancellation . . . [T]he Executive Board and our attorney's [sic] feel the cost in pursuing it may not be worth the remedy. . . . ULP on Changing Insurance Coverages This charge has been dropped . . . . EEOC Discrimination Charges Local 4420 members Jerry Brown and Anthony Booth have filed a Charge claiming unspecified discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Union and the County. The Executive Board and our attorney feel it is a frivolous claim with no grounds for support and we are extremely confident in winning but will still have to defend the charges. This Page 1203

could be very costly and generate a legal bill of $10,000 or more. If it becomes too costly the Union may have to assess its members additional fees to offset the cost. We will update you as it progresses.

The last quoted paragraph names Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs testified that they did not recall the Union previously naming any individual who was involved in a dispute. They also introduced examples of communications in which individuals were not named.8 President Grant testified that he had probably named individuals in prior updates, but he could not recall any examples (other than when he had named himself). He also testified that he named Plaintiffs in order to inform the members and respond to rumors because the members had a right to know who was involved.

The last quoted paragraph of the Memo also states that it could cost the Union $10,000 or more to defend against Plaintiffs' charges and that it may be necessary to assess additional fees from the membership. President Grant testified that, at the time of trial, this matter had cost substantially more than $10,000 but had not resulted in an assessment of additional fees.

Plaintiffs maintain that...

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