Schmidt v. Mars, Inc., 100714 FED3, 13-1048

Docket Nº:13-1048
Party Name:DEBORA A. SCHMIDT, Appellant v. MARS, INC.
Judge Panel:Before: AMBRO, JORDAN and ROTH, Circuit Judges
Case Date:October 07, 2014
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit




No. 13-1048

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

October 7, 2014


Submitted under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) on April 10, 2014

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D. C. No. 3-09-cv-03008) District Judge: Honorable Peter G. Sheridan

Before: AMBRO, JORDAN and ROTH, Circuit Judges



Debora A. Schmidt, a former federal tax analyst employed by Mars, Inc., filed this lawsuit in 2009 in New Jersey Superior Court, alleging that Mars had terminated her employment because of sex discrimination and in retaliation for Schmidt's complaints about sex discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.1Mars removed the action to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, and the parties submitted these claims to a trial by jury. After a nine-day trial, the jury found for Mars and the District Court entered judgment in Mars's favor. Shortly thereafter, Schmidt made a post-verdict motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, asserting several arguments that she had previously made in pretrial motions as well as throughout trial.2 The District Court denied Schmidt's motion on December 5, 2012. Schmidt appealed. We will affirm.

I. Background

Schmidt was hired by Mars in 1997. For the first two years of her employment, Schmidt reported to Wayne Monfries, who at that time was the federal tax manager for Mars. In 1999, Monfries moved to Europe as Mars's European Tax Manager, a role he held until 2004, when he returned to the United States to be the Americas Tax Manager for Mars. Except for the time Monfries was in Europe, and a brief period of 2006 when he was on disability leave, Schmidt reported to Monfries. While Monfries was working in Europe, Schmidt reported to Ira Siegel or Steven Altamore.

Schmidt received a performance review each year she worked at Mars, which was prepared by her supervisor. For her first seven years of employment, Schmidt received a performance rating of "Good" or its equivalent. In her 2005 review, however, Monfries rated Schmidt's performance as "Below Expectations." Schmidt responded to this rating by submitting a fifteen-page document attempting to refute each factual assertion Monfries had made in the review. In early August 2006, Schmidt met with Monfries to conduct a mid-year evaluation. In that meeting, Monfries informed Schmidt that her performance was continuing to fall below his expectations. On August 20, 2006, Schmidt submitted a written complaint to Mars's human resources personnel alleging the Monfries was engaging in harassment. More than two weeks later, Schmidt supplemented this complaint by asserting that Monfries was discriminating against her based on her sex.

Schmidt provided Mars's human resources personnel with a detailed description of her allegations of sex discrimination in an eight-page memorandum. In this memorandum, she asserted that she felt she was being "held to higher standards" than her male co-worker, Mark Dunckle, who was the State Tax Manager for Mars. Mars investigated these claims, but took no action in response to Schmidt's allegations.

Because Schmidt's performance had not improved, on August 31, 2006, Mars put Schmidt on a performance improvement plan. In May 2007, Mars terminated Schmidt's employment, citing declining performance.

Schmidt's claims were presented to a jury during a nine-day trial in May 2013. In defense, Mars submitted evidence to support its assertion that Schmidt was terminated for performance reasons, and not because of her sex. In addition, Mars submitted evidence that Dunckle's position as State Tax Manager was not comparable to Schmidt's position as a Federal Tax Manager. The jury found for Mars. Schmidt appeals.

II. Standard of Review

As a general matter, we review a District Court's order on a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Rinehimer v. Cemcolift, Inc., 292 F.3d 375, 383–84 (3d Cir. 2002). Similarly, we review a District Court's rulings on motions to change venue, discovery orders, efforts to control the conduct of trial, and evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. Doe ex rel. Doe v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 665 F.3d 524, 542 (3d Cir. 2011) (evidentiary rulings); Washington v. Hovensa LLC, 652 F.3d 340, 348 n.6 (3d Cir. 2011) (discovery matters); Duquesne Light Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 66 F.3d 604, 609–10 (3d Cir. 1995) (conduct of trial); see Research Automation, Inc. v. Schrader-Bridgeport Int'l, Inc., 626 F.3d 973, 977 (7th Cir. 2010) (motions to transfer). The District Court's interpretation of the Federal Rules of Evidence, however, is subject to plenary review. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 665 F.3d at 542.

Moreover, because this is a post-judgment appeal, Schmidt must do more than simply show that the District Court committed some error. Rather, Schmidt must also show that any error committed by the District Court affected her substantial rights, i.e., that the District Court's error was not harmless. Morgan v. Covington Twp., 648 F.3d 172, 180 (3d Cir. 2011).

III. Discussion

A. Motion to Change Venue

The District Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Schmidt's motion to change venue. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any...

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