Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., WAL-MART

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore WIDENER and MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judges, and PHILLIPS; MURNAGHAN
Citation144 F.3d 294
Parties73 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,320, 135 Lab.Cas. P 33,681, 4 Wage & Hour Cas.2d (BNA) 1185, 8 A.D. Cases 154, 12 NDLR P 198 Keith W. CLINE, Plaintiff-Appellee, v.STORES, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date05 May 1998
Docket NumberNo. 96-2680,WAL-MART

Page 294

144 F.3d 294
73 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,320, 135 Lab.Cas. P 33,681,
4 Wage & Hour Cas.2d (BNA) 1185, 8 A.D. Cases 154,
12 NDLR P 198
Keith W. CLINE, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
WAL-MART STORES, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 96-2680.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued Dec. 1, 1997.
Decided May 5, 1998.

Page 297

ARGUED: Todd James Horn, Venable, Baetjer & Howard, L.L.P., Baltimore, MD, for Appellant. Timothy Earl Cupp, Cupp & Cupp, P.C., Harrisonburg, VA, for Appellee.

Page 298

ON BRIEF: Maurice Baskin, Venable, Baetjer & Howard, L.L.P., Baltimore, MD, for Appellant.

Before WIDENER and MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judges, and PHILLIPS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part by published opinion. Judge MURNAGHAN wrote the opinion, in which Judge WIDENER and Senior Judge PHILLIPS joined.

OPINION

MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:

Appellee, Keith Cline (Cline), was employed by Appellant, WalMart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart), as a night maintenance supervisor, until he was demoted to the position of night maintenance worker following his return from a lengthy medical leave. Cline complained about his demotion to various Wal-Mart officials and informed them of his intent to take legal action. A short time later, Cline was fired for allegedly "stealing time" from the company.

Cline brought suit against Wal-Mart pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., for failing to restore him to his prior position and for retaliating against him for asserting his rights under the FMLA. Cline also brought suit under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., alleging that his demotion and termination were motivated by handicap discrimination. Finally, under state law, Cline alleged that his termination was in violation of public policy. Before trial, the district court dismissed the state law claim and granted partial summary judgment to Cline on his FMLA restoration claim. Thereafter, a jury found Wal-Mart liable on the FMLA retaliation and ADA demotion claims and awarded Cline compensatory and punitive damages. The district court awarded Cline liquidated damages on his FMLA claims. Following the entry of judgment, Wal-Mart made various motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or a new trial, which the district court denied.

On appeal, Wal-Mart charges error in the district court's grant of partial summary judgment to Cline on his FMLA restoration claim. Wal-Mart also appeals the district court's denial of its motions for JNOV or a new trial on Cline's FMLA retaliation and ADA demotion claims. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the grant of summary judgment and all findings of liability against Wal-Mart. However, because we find the jury's awards of compensatory and punitive damages on the ADA claim to be excessive, we grant a remittitur or a new trial on those awards at Cline's option. We vacate the award of front pay under the FMLA and remand to the district court for consideration in equity. Finally, we vacate the related FMLA liquidated damages award and remand for recalculation, if necessary.

I.

On July 21, 1993, approximately six months after undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor, Cline commenced employment as a night maintenance worker at Wal-Mart's Harrisonburg, Virginia store. While serving in that position, Cline received acceptable performance evaluations and, on May 21, 1994, was promoted by Steve Vincent, then store manager, to the position of night maintenance supervisor, receiving a raise from $5.75 to $7.00 per hour. Shortly after his promotion, Cline was diagnosed with another brain tumor. He advised Wal-Mart's new store manager, Thomas Baxter, that he needed to take a medical leave of absence for surgery to remove the tumor.

Baxter approved Cline's request for medical leave and referred Cline to Wal-Mart's personnel manager, Dennis Brown, who was responsible for informing employees about the terms and conditions of medical and vacation leave. Brown advised Cline that he was required to expend any accrued vacation time before the commencement of his medical leave. Pursuant to those directions, Cline submitted the required form requesting his five days of accrued vacation leave, which Brown approved and for which Cline was paid. Brown also gave Cline a form entitled "Request for Leave of Absence," which was to be completed by Cline and his treating

Page 299

neurosurgeon. Cline was not provided with any notices relating to his rights under the FMLA.

On August 4, 1994, Cline began his leave of absence for surgery to remove the brain tumor. Throughout the period of his leave, Cline's wife, Mary Ellen Cline, contacted Cline's supervisors, including assistant managers Marlyn Buffington, Jeff Furman, and Paul Moore, to keep them apprised of Cline's medical status and plans to return to work. Around the middle of October 1994, Mrs. Cline notified Moore that Cline would return to work on November 1, if his physician released him as expected.

Prior to the expiration of Cline's FMLA leave, Baxter began having discussions with Gilbert Rieder, a Wal-Mart employee from another store, about the possibility of taking over Cline's position as maintenance supervisor. According to Rieder, Baxter stated that WalMart might have to demote Cline because, following his surgery, he might not have "the mental capacity to supervise and run the night maintenance crew." At or near the end of October 1994, Baxter hired Rieder to replace Cline as night maintenance supervisor.

On November 1, 1994, Cline returned to work without medically imposed restriction. Within several hours of Cline's return, Wal-Mart demoted him from his position as night maintenance supervisor to the position of night maintenance worker. Upon learning of her husband's demotion, Mary Ellen Cline contacted Wal-Mart's district manager, Randy Metje, to object to the demotion on Cline's behalf. Metje informed Mrs. Cline that, according to Baxter, Cline had been demoted "because of his health" and because he "could not work but one or two days a week" and "could not hold the pressure that he had had as supervisor."

Cline personally communicated to Wal-Mart supervisory personnel that he opposed his demotion. Cline informed Brandon Buck and Paul Moore, both assistant managers and supervisors over Cline, that he was upset about the demotion and that he planned to take legal action against the company. In addition, according to Gilbert Rieder, within days of Rieder's taking over the night maintenance supervisor's position, Cline, Rieder and Baxter had a meeting during which Cline communicated that he was upset about the demotion and advised Baxter that "he was going to take some sort of action ... like he was going to start with the labor board or with the employment office or something."

On January 3, 1995, Cline arrived at work to attend a mandatory meeting of the night maintenance crew scheduled by Rieder to be held in the employee lounge at 9:00 p.m. Rieder had given maintenance employee Timothy Rosson specific instructions to clock in and wait in the employee lounge until the start of the meeting. Upon entering the store at 8:47 p.m. and seeing that Rieder was already present, Cline clocked in with Rosson and proceeded to the employee lounge.

When Baxter observed Cline and Rosson in the lounge, he decided to fire Cline, and allegedly Rosson, for "stealing time" from the company. Cline was presented with an exit interview sheet signed by Baxter, which stated that Cline was being fired for clocking in early and was ineligible for rehire. Rosson, on the other hand, was not permanently discharged. Although Wal-Mart maintains that it terminated Rosson several days later, Wal-Mart could not produce an exit interview sheet or any other employment record to verify that Rosson was fired, and no record of a policy violation was noted in Rosson's file. In any event, within two weeks after he was allegedly discharged, Rosson was reinstated, at the same hourly wage, to his original position with the company. Wal-Mart eventually promoted Rosson to supervisor of the night maintenance crew.

On June 27, 1995, Cline brought suit against Wal-Mart in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, setting forth three distinct claims for relief. First, Cline alleged that his demotion and termination constituted handicap discrimination in violation of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. Next, Cline asserted that Wal-Mart had violated his rights under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., by failing to restore him to his prior position and by firing him in retaliation for his threat to take legal action. Finally, Cline alleged

Page 300

under state law that his termination was in violation of public policy.

Wal-Mart moved for summary judgment on all three claims. The district court dismissed without prejudice Cline's state law wrongful discharge claim, but denied Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment in all other respects. The court then granted a motion by Cline for partial summary judgment on all questions related to the duration of his leave under the FMLA, and struck Wal-Mart's defense that Cline's leave included the period during which he had received paid vacation leave.

The case proceeded to a jury trial with the Honorable Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler presiding. At the close of plaintiff's evidence, Wal-Mart moved for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a), on Cline's FMLA retaliation and ADA demotion and discharge claims. The trial court denied Wal-Mart's motions.

At the close of all the evidence, Wal-Mart renewed its motions for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), and the trial court again denied them. Cline then requested and was granted judgment as a matter of law on the remaining issues of his FMLA restoration claim. Thereafter, the jury...

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    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
    • December 11, 2000
    ...court has indicted that the analytical framework developed under Title VII cases should be applied. See Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998). "Under that analysis, the plaintiff must show that he engaged in protected activity, that the employer took adverse actio......
  • Clehm v. Bae Sys. Ordnance Sys., Inc., Civil Action No. 7:16-cv-00012
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • December 14, 2018
    ...verdict." Atlas Food Sys. and Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat. Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996); Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir. 1998). "This discretion includes overturning verdicts for excessiveness and ordering a new trial without qualification or con......
  • Moss v. City of Abbeville, Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-01859-PBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 15, 2010
    ...against him," and (3) "the adverse action was causally connected to the [P]laintiff's protected activity." Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998). The Plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of causality by showing close temporal proximity between the adverse em......
  • Lewis v. Richland Cnty. Recreation Comm'n, Civil Action No.: 3:16-cv-2884-MGL-TER
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 30, 2018
    ...protected activity. Yashenko v. Harrah's N.C. Casino Co., LLC, 446 F.3d 541, 551 (4th Cir.2006) (citing Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998)). Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity and that he suffered an adverse employment action wh......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
363 cases
  • Clehm v. Bae Sys. Ordnance Sys., Inc., Civil Action No. 7:16-cv-00012
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
    • December 14, 2018
    ...verdict." Atlas Food Sys. and Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat. Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996); Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir. 1998). "This discretion includes overturning verdicts for excessiveness and ordering a new trial without qualification or con......
  • Moss v. City of Abbeville, Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-01859-PBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 15, 2010
    ...against him," and (3) "the adverse action was causally connected to the [P]laintiff's protected activity." Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998). The Plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of causality by showing close temporal proximity between the adverse em......
  • Lewis v. Richland Cnty. Recreation Comm'n, Civil Action No.: 3:16-cv-2884-MGL-TER
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 30, 2018
    ...protected activity. Yashenko v. Harrah's N.C. Casino Co., LLC, 446 F.3d 541, 551 (4th Cir.2006) (citing Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998)). Defendants acknowledge that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity and that he suffered an adverse employment action wh......
  • Rambus, Inc. v. Infineon Technologies Ag, No. CIV.A.3:00CV524.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • August 9, 2001
    ...of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict. Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir.1998) (internal citations omitted). See also Wyatt v. Interstate & Ocean Transp. Co., 623 F.2d 888, 891-92 (4th B. Motion For ......
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