92 F.3d 727 (8th Cir. 1996), 95-3514, Parrish v. Immanuel Medical Center

Docket Nº:95-3514.
Citation:92 F.3d 727
Party Name:Mary Ruth PARRISH, Appellee, v. IMMANUEL MEDICAL CENTER, Appellant.
Case Date:August 14, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 727

92 F.3d 727 (8th Cir. 1996)

Mary Ruth PARRISH, Appellee,

v.

IMMANUEL MEDICAL CENTER, Appellant.

No. 95-3514.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 14, 1996

Submitted April 11, 1996.

Rehearing Denied Sept. 13, 1996.

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J. Russell Derr, Omaha, NE, argued (Soren S. Jensen, on the brief), for appellant.

Andrew Stevenson Bogue, II, Omaha, NE, argued, for appellee.

Before BEAM and MURPHY, Circuit Judges, and NANGLE, [*] District Judge.

BEAM, Circuit Judge.

Mary Ruth Parrish brought suit against Immanuel Medical Center (Immanuel) alleging discrimination based on age and disability in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act (NFEPA), Neb.Rev.Stat. § 48-1101 et seq. A jury awarded Parrish $21,218.15 in compensatory damages. Based on the jury's finding that Immanuel willfully violated the ADEA, the district court 1 determined that Parrish was entitled to liquidated damages and accordingly entered final judgment for Parrish in the amount of $42,436.30. The district court denied Immanuel's post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, and Immanuel appeals. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Parrish was hired as a part-time registrar in Immanuel's patient admitting department in 1979, when she was fifty-seven years old. As a registrar, Parrish's responsibilities included receiving patients into the hospital, obtaining information from patients for hospital records, taking reservations from doctors for patient admittance, and responding to public inquiries. In 1985, computers were installed in the admitting department to assist the registrars in their work. All registrars, including Parrish, received extensive computer training at that time. Parrish had no reported difficulties adjusting to the computers. In fact, Parrish's job evaluations indicated that she performed all aspects of her job to the satisfaction of her superiors. During her ten years of employment at Immanuel, she received no negative evaluations and largely positive comments from her supervisors, save for an admonishment to refrain from criticizing fellow employees in the department. Although Parrish was slower in admitting patients than many of the other registrars, she was also one of the most accurate workers in the department.

In 1990, Immanuel implemented a new computer system at the hospital. The new system brought significant changes, and therefore required re-training of all registrars. Each employee was to receive eight hours of hands-on training in two separate sessions. Parrish attended her first day of this training on May 3, 1990, and was scheduled to participate in a second session on May 4. On that day, however, Parrish was hospitalized at Methodist Richard Young Mental Health Care Center for depression and anxiety. She remained at that facility until May 18, and was advised by her physician not to return to work until at least June 4, 1990. During Parrish's absence, her physician wrote a letter to Immanuel explaining her condition and his recommendation that she return to her job.

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Parrish returned to work on June 7, 1990. Immediately upon her return, Department Manager Linda Erickson met with Parrish. Erickson informed Parrish that she would not be returning to her regular duties as a registrar but would instead be assigned to a newly created position. The position would require Parrish to work five days a week from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and thus involved later hours than those Parrish worked under her regular schedule.

The details of this new position were vigorously contested by the parties at trial. According to Immanuel, Parrish was asked to fill an "auditing position"--a position which would utilize Parrish's accuracy by giving her the responsibility of checking the work done by other registrars. According to Parrish, however, Erickson explained that the new job would involve assembling and stapling the papers of patient accounts. These accounts normally included between four and ten sheets of paper. The process of assembling those papers would normally take only one or two minutes per patient. Parrish testified that Erickson made it clear she would no longer be working with patients or with the computer. She also testified that during this meeting Erickson made frequent references to Parrish's alleged problems with the new software system and to her inefficiency as a registrar. On at least one occasion, Erickson was said to have commented that even younger registrars were having problems with the new computers.

The parties agree that Parrish was not given the option of returning to her position as a part-time registrar. Erickson presented the offer to transfer as an all-or-nothing proposition. After the meeting, Parrish completed her work day. The following day, Parrish did not report to work but instead called Erickson to ask her to reconsider her decision to transfer Parrish. Erickson refused the request and Parrish resigned her position with Immanuel. At that time, Parrish was sixty-six years old and the oldest registrar in the department. Following Parrish's resignation, other registrars in the department assumed her responsibilities in admitting. The new position proposed by Erickson was never filled.

Parrish sued Immanuel, alleging that she was constructively discharged because of her age and her disability. At trial, Parrish submitted evidence regarding her work record and the events prompting her resignation. Parrish also presented evidence that at the time of the proposed transfer, Immanuel maintained a policy mandating retirement at age seventy. Finally, there was undisputed testimony that in the spring of 1990 two other employees in the admitting department had been asked to retire.

In response to this evidence, Immanuel contended that it legitimately sought to transfer Parrish because of her inefficiency and her difficulties with the new computer system. The jury rejected Immanuel's explanation and found that Immanuel had discriminated against Parrish due to her age and disability. On appeal from the district court's denial of Immanuel's motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, Immanuel argues, among other things, that: (1) Parrish was not constructively discharged; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of age discrimination; (3) Parrish's disability claim was time-barred and not supported by sufficient evidence; (4) Parrish failed to mitigate her damages; (5) any violation of the ADEA was not willful; and (6) the jury was improperly instructed as to the requirements of a prima facie case of discrimination.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

In reviewing a denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law, we must determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict. White v. Pence, 961 F.2d 776, 779 (8th Cir.1992). In making this determination, we must: (1) consider the evidence in the light most favorable to Parrish; (2) assume that all conflicts in the evidence were resolved in favor of Parrish; (3) assume as proved all facts that Parrish's evidence tended to prove; and (4) give Parrish the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably be drawn from the facts. See id. at n. 4. We must affirm a denial of a

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motion for judgment as a matter of law if reasonable persons could differ as to the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence. See Gaworski v. ITT Commercial Finance Corp., 17 F.3d 1104, 1108 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 355, 130 L.Ed.2d 310 (1994).

  1. Constructive Discharge

    Immanuel first argues that the district court should have granted its motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence does not support the jury's finding that Parrish was constructively discharged. Both the ADEA and the NFEPA prohibit employers from making adverse employment decisions, such as terminations or demotions, on the basis of age or disability. Accordingly, since Parrish resigned her position at Immanuel, she may only recover if she demonstrates that Immanuel's actions constituted a constructive discharge.

    Constructive discharge occurs when "an employer deliberately renders the employee's working conditions intolerable and thus forces [her] to quit [her] job." Johnson v. Bunny Bread Co., 646 F.2d 1250, 1256 (8th Cir.1981) (internal quotation and citation omitted). Intolerability of conditions is judged by an objective standard, and thus requires a showing that a reasonable person in the employee's situation would find the conditions intolerable. Hukkanen v. International Union of Operating Eng'rs, 3 F.3d 281, 284 (8th Cir.1993). Moreover, in order to constitute constructive discharge, the employer's actions must have been intended to force the employee to quit. Id. A plaintiff may satisfy this intent requirement by showing that her resignation "was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of [her] employer's discriminatory actions." Id. at 285.

    Applying these standards, we conclude that Parrish has presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that she was constructively discharged. At trial, Parrish testified extensively regarding the duties of the proposed position. She testified that she was informed her new position would require coming into work at the end of the day to assemble patient records other registrars had left unassembled--a task which takes only a few minutes per patient. Immanuel did not contest the fact that prior to the proposed transfer these duties were handled by the registrar who had admitted the patient. Nor did it dispute that after Parrish's resignation, file assembly was handled by Immanuel's telephone operators during their spare time. From this evidence a...

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