Black v. Pan Am. Laboratories

Decision Date11 July 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–51092.,09–51092.
Citation646 F.3d 254,112 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1185
PartiesCarleen BLACK, Plaintiff–Appellee Cross–Appellant,v.PAN AMERICAN LABORATORIES, L.L.C.; Pamlab, L.L.C., Defendants–Appellants Cross–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit


Delta S. Best (argued), Allison L. Spruill, Best & Spruill, P.C., Austin, TX, for PlaintiffAppellee Cross–Appellant.Paul Ellis Hash (argued), Michael Joseph DePonte, Jackson Lewis, L.L.P., William Engler Hammel, Constangy, Brooks & Smith, L.L.P., Dallas, TX, for DefendantsAppellants Cross–Appellees.Appeals from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas,Before JONES, Chief Judge, and DENNIS and CLEMENT, Circuit Judges.EDITH BROWN CLEMENT, Circuit Judge:

Carleen Black sued her former employer, Pamlab, alleging various sex discrimination claims and a retaliatory termination claim under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), Texas Lab.Code §§ 21.001–21.556. A jury rendered a verdict in Black's favor and awarded her $3,450,000 in back pay and compensatory and punitive damages. Applying Title VII's damages cap, the district court reduced the jury's award to a total of $500,000, representing $300,000 in back pay and $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Pamlab appeals, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's liability and punitive damages findings. Black cross-appeals, arguing that the district court erred in its application of Title VII's damages cap. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the jury's verdict and the district court's application of Title VII's damages cap. We REVERSE in part the jury's back pay award and REMAND for recalculation.

I. Facts and Proceedings

Black worked as a sales representative for Pamlab, a pharmaceutical company, from February 2003 until her employment was terminated in April 2006. As a sales representative, Black's job was to meet with physicians and pharmacists and to convince them to prescribe or stock Pamlab's products. Each Pamlab sales representative is responsible for making office visits within an assigned geographic sales territory.

From the beginning of her employment until June 2005, Black was assigned a territory covering a large portion of Las Vegas, Nevada. Pamlab had split the Las Vegas area into two sales territories along I–15, resulting in an eastern territory and a western territory. Black was assigned the eastern territory while Shane Livingston (“Livingston”), a male sales representative, covered the western territory. Livingston began working the Las Vegas area approximately three months before Black and departed in the latter part of 2004.

Black testified that when she first started at Pamlab she was told by Pamlab's management that she would not have a sales quota. Approximately 120 days after she began at Pamlab, however, she received a sales quota. Livingston was also told that he would not have a sales quota, but he also received a quota. It is undisputed that, from February 2003 to the end of 2004, Black's sales quota was higher than Livingston's. Black complained to her supervisor about her quota, who directed her complaints to Stephen Camp, Pamlab's Vice–President of Sales and Marketing. Black testified that, when she complained to Stephen Camp, he replied that the quota “shouldn't matter to you, [because] you're not the breadwinner anyway.”

In June 2004, Black notified Pamlab that she planned to move to Texas the following summer. In order to keep Black at the company, Pamlab offered her a sales representative position in San Antonio, Texas, which Black accepted. In June 2005, Black began working in Texas, reporting to district manager Jody Redding.

In April 2006, Black attended Pamlab's National Sales Meeting, a week-long annual event held in Orlando, Florida. During this convention, Black failed to appear when her name was called for an award at a banquet and failed to attend a “send off” breakfast the following morning. The following week, Barry LeBlanc (Pamlab's CEO), Samuel Camp (Pamlab's President), Stephen Camp, Tracy Johnson (Pamlab's Director of Sales for the Western United States), and Lee Ingles (Pamlab's Human Resources Director) met and decided to terminate Black. On April 14, 2006, Pamlab terminated Black's employment. Ingles testified that Black was terminated for missing meetings at the National Sales Meeting and for complaining about her sales territory.

Throughout her tenure at Pamlab, Black had objected to a number of sexually charged comments made by Pamlab's management to her or in her presence. Black testified that Samuel Camp, Johnson, and Redding had made sexually explicit comments about various parts of Black's body.1 Black also testified that Redding requested to go back with her to her hotel room at a national sales meeting. Black made informal complaints about these comments to her supervisors (who were also the individuals who made the comments).

Following her termination, Black filed suit in Texas state court under Title VII and the TCHRA, alleging that: (1) Pamlab discriminated against her on the basis of gender in assigning her sales quota (“quota claim”); (2) Pamlab discriminated against her on the basis of sex by terminating her (“termination claim”); and (3) Pamlab retaliated against her for making complaints regarding its discriminatory activities by terminating her (“retaliation claim”). Pamlab removed the case to federal court and the case proceeded to a jury trial. 2 After Black presented her case-in-chief, Pamlab moved for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”), which the district court denied. The jury returned a verdict in Black's favor on all three discrimination claims. It awarded Black: (1) $200,000 in compensatory damages for each claim; (2) $150,000 in back pay for each claim; and (3) a total of $2,400,000 in punitive damages.

After trial, Pamlab renewed its JMOL motion, which the district court again denied. Pamlab also filed a motion for remittitur, which the court granted in part. Because the jury's verdict resulted in double recovery of back pay resulting from Black's termination, the court reduced the $300,000 in total back pay awards for her termination and retaliation claims to $150,000. It then reduced Black's total compensatory/punitive damages award to $200,000 pursuant to Title VII's and the TCHRA's damages cap.3 See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3); Tex. Lab.Code § 21.2585(d). Pamlab timely appeals and Black cross-appeals.

II. Standard of Review

We review the district court's denial of a renewed JMOL motion de novo. Perez v. Tex. Dep't of Crim. Justice, 395 F.3d 206, 215 (5th Cir.2004). When reviewing jury verdicts, the court views all the evidence and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the verdict. Wyvill v. United Cos. Life Ins. Co., 212 F.3d 296, 301 (5th Cir.2000). If “the facts and inferences point so strongly in favor of [Pamlab] that a rational jury could not arrive at a contrary verdict,” then Pamlab's JMOL motion should be granted. Waymire v. Harris Cnty., 86 F.3d 424, 427 (5th Cir.1996) (quotation omitted).

“The decision to grant or deny a motion for ... remittitur rests in the sound discretion of the trial judge; that exercise of discretion can be set aside only upon a clear showing of abuse.” Consol. Cos. v. Lexington Ins. Co., 616 F.3d 422, 435 (5th Cir.2010) (quotation omitted). “A trial court abuses its discretion when it bases its decision on an erroneous view of the law or a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.” United States v. Caldwell, 586 F.3d 338, 341 (5th Cir.2009).

III. Discussion

Pamlab argues that the district court erred in denying its renewed JMOL because there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's findings of liability on the quota, termination, and retaliation claims. It also argues that the evidence did not support either the jury's $150,000 back pay award for the quota claim or the jury's punitive damages award for all claims. Black cross-appeals the district court's application of Title VII's damages cap to her award.

A. Whether Black presented sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict on her termination claim.

Pamlab argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's finding that it discriminated against Black on the basis of sex when it terminated her in 2006.

To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII and the TCHRA, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the plaintiff is a member of a protected group; (2) the plaintiff was qualified for the job that was held; (3) the plaintiff was discharged; and (4) after the employer discharged the plaintiff, the employer filled the position with a person who is not a member of a protected group.” Valdez v. San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, 974 F.2d 592, 596 (5th Cir.1992). After the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the employer to show a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for the adverse employment action. McCoy v. City of Shreveport, 492 F.3d 551, 556 (5th Cir.2007). The employer's burden is one of production, not persuasion, and does not involve a credibility assessment. Id. at 559. The burden then shifts back to the plaintiff to show either: (1) that the defendant's reason is not true, but is instead a pretext for discrimination (pretext alternative); or (2) that the defendant's reason, while true, is only one of the reasons for its conduct, and another ‘motivating factor’ is the plaintiff's protected characteristic (mixed-motive[s] alternative).” Rachid v. Jack in the Box, Inc., 376 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir.2004) (alteration in original); see also Smith v. Xerox Corp., 602 F.3d 320, 326 (5th Cir.2010). Under the pretext alternative, the plaintiff “bears the ultimate burden of proving that the employer's proffered reason is not true but instead is a pretext for the real discriminatory ......

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