875 F.2d 540 (6th Cir. 1989), 87-6132, Wooldridge v. Marlene Industries Corp.

Docket Nº:87-6132.
Citation:875 F.2d 540
Party Name:Jane M. WOOLDRIDGE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MARLENE INDUSTRIES CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:May 18, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 540

875 F.2d 540 (6th Cir. 1989)

Jane M. WOOLDRIDGE, Plaintiff-Appellant,


MARLENE INDUSTRIES CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 87-6132.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 18, 1989

Argued Oct. 12, 1988.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied July 6, 1989.

Page 541

Robert L. Bertram, Bertram and Wilson, Jamestown, Ky., M. Gail Wilson, John F. Sherlock, III (argued), Donald F. Mintmire, Barnett & Alagia, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff-appellant.

Hollis E. Edmonds, Russell Springs, Ky., Charles Hampton White (argued), Nashville, Tenn., for defendants-appellees.

Before MERRITT and RYAN, Circuit Judges, and POTTER, District Judge [*]

JOHN W. POTTER, District Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Jane M. Wooldridge appeals from the district court's determination that the maternity leave policy in effect in defendant-appellee Marlene Industries Corporation's apparel manufacturing plants in North and South Carolina was not unlawful. We find the district court's determination is not clearly erroneous and affirm as to this issue. Plaintiff-appellant also contends that the district court erred in adopting the special master's report on the issue of damages. Because we find the district court applied incorrect legal principles in the damages phase, we reverse in part and remand for further consideration.

Appellant filed this action on February 4, 1976 alleging that her employer, defendant-appellee Russell Sportswear Corporation, a subsidiary of Marlene Industries Corporation, was discriminating against female employees by maintaining a mandatory maternity leave policy in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq. The district court initially ordered that the action be maintained as a class action on behalf of appellant and all other present and past female employees of Marlene Industries Corporation who had been compelled to take pregnancy leaves from their employment at five specified locations in Kentucky and Tennessee since

Page 542

February 4, 1971. Approximately two months later, in consideration of the applicable statute of limitations, the class description was amended by consent to limit the class to those female employees compelled to take a pregnancy leave since October 17, 1973. The case proceeded to trial in February and March, 1981. The court entered its findings of fact and conclusions of law on April 10, 1981.

The district court found that a mandatory maternity leave policy which violated Title VII had been in effect at the Kentucky and Tennessee locations during the period October 17, 1973 through October 17, 1975. A United States Magistrate was appointed to serve as special master for the purpose of determining the amount due each member of the class as damages. The special master conducted hearings on damages for 130 class members from September through December, 1981. By separate order entered April 10, 1981, the district court expanded the plaintiff class to include employees of Marlene Industries working at plants in North and South Carolina. In May, 1983 the district court conducted a second trial to determine whether an unlawful policy had been in effect in the North and South Carolina plants. The court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law dated May 13, 1985 holding that the maternity leave policy in effect in the North and South Carolina plants did not violate Title VII.

The special master filed his report on September 3, 1986. The master's report adopted the defendants' proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law in their entirety, recommending a schedule of payments to the named class members in the total amount of $30,011.42. All parties filed objections to the master's recommendation. The objections were considered by the court in its memorandum opinion entered September 11, 1987, adopting the master's report and recommendation. The district court entered its final judgment on September 11, 1987, from which this appeal is taken.

Appellant contends that the district court's finding, that the maternity leave policy in effect in Marlene Industries' North and South Carolina plants did not violate Title VII, is clearly erroneous. The applicable standard of review is set forth in Anderson v. Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985).

Although the meaning of the phrase "clearly erroneous" is not immediately apparent, certain general principles governing the exercise of the appellate court's power to overturn findings of a district court may be derived from our cases. The foremost of these principles, as the Fourth Circuit itself recognized, is that "[a] finding is 'clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 [68 S.Ct. 525, 542, 92 L.Ed. 746] (1948). This standard plainly does not entitle a reviewing court to reverse the finding of the trier of fact simply because it is convinced that it would have decided the case differently. The reviewing court oversteps the bounds of its duty under Rule 52(a) if it undertakes to duplicate the role of the lower court. "In applying the clearly erroneous standard to the findings of a district court sitting without a jury, appellate courts must constantly have in mind that their function is not to decide factual issues de novo." Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 395 U.S. 100, 123 [89 S.Ct. 1562, 1576, 23 L.Ed.2d 129] (1969). If the district court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the court of appeals may not reverse it even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently. Where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous. United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 338 U.S. 338, 342 [70 S.Ct. 177, 179, 94 L.Ed. 150] (1949); see also Inwood Laboratories,

Page 543

Inc. v. Ives Laboratories, Inc., 456 U.S. 844 [102 S.Ct. 2182, 72 L.Ed.2d 606] (1982).

* * *

When findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses, Rule 52(a) demands even greater deference to the trial court's findings; for only the trial judge can be aware of the variations in demeanor and tone of voice that bear so heavily on the listener's understanding of and belief in what is said. See Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 [105 S.Ct. 844, 83 L.Ed.2d 841] (1985). This is not to suggest that the trial judge may insulate his findings from review by denominating them credibility determinations, for factors other than demeanor and inflection go into the decision whether or not to believe a witness. Documents or objective evidence may contradict the witness' story; or the story itself may be so internally inconsistent or implausible on its face that a reasonable factfinder would not credit it. Where such factors are present, the court of appeals may well find clear error even in a finding purportedly based on a credibility determination. See, e.g., United States v. United States Gypsum Co., supra, [333 U.S.] at 396 [68 S.Ct. at 542]. But when a trial judge's finding is based on his decision to credit the testimony of one of two or more witnesses, each of whom has told a coherent and facially plausible story that is not contradicted by extrinsic evidence, that finding, if not internally inconsistent, can virtually never be clear error.

Id. at 573-575, 105 S.Ct. at 1511-1513.

Appellant claims the district court's finding as to the North and South Carolina plants is clearly erroneous on the grounds that it is contrary to the evidence and because it is internally inconsistent. Neither ground is well taken. In support of her claim that the finding of no unlawful maternity leave policy is contrary to the evidence presented at trial, appellant has offered vignettes from the testimony of five witnesses. Appellant also contends that the testimony of the witnesses is corroborated by a large number of documents placed in evidence at the trial.

This Court has thoroughly reviewed the entire trial transcript, of which the excerpts relied upon by appellant are but a small portion. The trial...

To continue reading