Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., Nos. 86-1942

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore BOWNES and SELYA; PETTINE
Parties44 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 753, 43 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 37,264, 56 USLW 2131, 23 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1024 Sandra CONWAY, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. ELECTRO SWITCH CORP., Defendant, Appellant. Sandra CONWAY, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. ELECTRO SWITCH CORP., et al., Defendants, Appellees. . Heard
Decision Date04 March 1987
Docket Number86-1953,Nos. 86-1942

Page 593

825 F.2d 593
44 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 753,
43 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 37,264, 56 USLW 2131,
23 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1024
Sandra CONWAY, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
ELECTRO SWITCH CORP., Defendant, Appellant.
Sandra CONWAY, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
ELECTRO SWITCH CORP., et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Nos. 86-1942, 86-1953.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Heard March 4, 1987.
Decided Aug. 6, 1987.

Page 595

Richard J. Riley with whom Murphy, DeMarco and O'Neill, P.C., Boston, Mass., was on brief for Electro Switch Corp.

Lee M. Berger with whom Berger and Markir, Buzzards Bay, Mass., was on brief for Sandra Conway.

Before BOWNES and SELYA, Circuit Judges, and PETTINE, * Senior District Judge.

PETTINE, Senior District Judge.

Both parties to this action have appealed portions of the district court's judgment affirming a jury's award of damages to the plaintiff, Sandra Conway, for discrimination suffered at the hands of her employer, the Electro Switch Corp. ("Electro Switch"). Ms. Conway brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, alleging that the defendant, Electro Switch, and four of its employees discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and age. The plaintiff alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq. (1982), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. Sec. 621 et seq. (1982), as well as violations of Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 151B and Mass.Gen.Laws ch. 12 Sec. 11I, the Massachusetts Discrimination and Civil Rights statutes. The plaintiff also sought damages for bad-faith breach of an at-will employment contract, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for interference with contractual relations.

Prior to trial, the district judge dismissed each claim against the individual defendants and dismissed the contractual interference and emotional distress claims against Electro Switch. The case was tried to a jury which found that Ms. Conway was fired from her position at Electro Switch and that her sex, but not her age, was a determinative factor in Electro Switch's decision to terminate her employment. The jury awarded Ms. Conway $32,243.00 for the loss of past earnings and benefits and $56,492.00 for lost future earnings and benefits, also referred to as "front pay." After the jury returned its verdict, the defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a motion for a new trial. The district judge denied the motions and entered final judgment for the plaintiff. The district judge affirmed the back pay award as well as the jury's award of lost future earnings as recoverable under Mass.Gen.Laws Ann. ch. 151B. In addition, the district judge awarded prejudgment

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interest on the back pay award, while declining to add any interest payment to the front pay calculation.

Electro Switch appeals the district court's judgment on three grounds. First, Electro Switch charges that the district judge committed prejudicial error in allowing testimony as to sex-biased statements made by two Electro Switch managers; second, Electro Switch contends that the judgment in favor of the plaintiff was contrary to the weight of the evidence; and finally, Electro Switch appeals the award of front pay damages which it argues is not authorized by Massachusetts law. The plaintiff, too, has found grounds for unhappiness in the district court's decision. The plaintiff appeals the eight-percent interest calculation on the award of lost back pay and benefits, arguing that the interest should have been added at a rate of twelve percent per annum as provided by Massachusetts statute. The plaintiff also appeals the district court's refusal to augment the front pay award with interest.

A. Admission of the Statements of Robert Olsson and Franklin Meissner

Electro Switch has appealed the district judge's denial of its motion in limine which allowed testimony as to statements of Robert Olsson and Franklin Meissner to be entered into evidence. 1 At trial, Ms. Conway testified that in March or April, 1982, she asked her supervisor, William Cravens, for a pay increase. Mr. Cravens sought authorization for the raise from Robert Olsson, the industrial relations manager. Mr. Olsson refused the requested raise, responding that Sandra Conway made enough money and was one of the highest-paid women in the company. Mr. Cravens reported this response to the plaintiff, who testified to it at trial.

Patricia LaRose, a quality control supervisor, testified to a statement made to her by Franklin Meissner, the company's president at the time of Ms. Conway's termination. Ms. LaRose testified that sometime in 1981, she sought and was refused a raise from her supervisor. Ms. LaRose appealed this decision to Mr. Meissner, who, at that time, was her supervisor's superior, but had yet to become the company's president. Ms. LaRose testified that Mr. Meissner responded, "Well, no, I don't think so, Pat. For a woman supervisor, you do very well." The district judge permitted the testimony as to both statements ruling that they were relevant to the "corporate state-of-mind."

Electro Switch appeals the propriety of the district judge's ruling, alleging that the statements were extremely prejudicial to its cause. Electro Switch contests the relevancy of the statements, arguing that the plaintiff presented no evidence to suggest that Mr. Olsson or Mr. Meissner played any role in Ms. Conway's termination apart from preparing the necessary paperwork. The appellant contends that for evidence of a "corporate state-of-mind" to be relevant it must be indicative of the consciousness of the individuals who took the employment action at issue. The appellant claims that admission of the testimony was extremely prejudicial because the statements reflected the only two instances in which one Electro Switch employee mentioned another's gender.

Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that any evidence is relevant if it "has any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence

Page 597

to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence." This standard affords the trial judge considerable latitude in making discretionary determinations as to relevancy and "[o]nly in exceptional cases will reversible error be found in the district court's determination of the probative value of testimony in a particular case." United States v. Kepreos, 759 F.2d 961, 964 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 227, 88 L.Ed.2d 227 (1985). Decisions committed to the broad discretion of the trial court will be reversed only upon a showing that the trial judge's ruling manifested an abuse of discretion. See United States v. Marler, 756 F.2d 206, 217 (1st Cir.1985); United States v. Tierney, 760 F.2d 382, 387-88 (1st Cir.) (district courts have considerable discretion in determining the relevancy of evidence, and this discretion must be respected so long as it "does not stray entirely beyond the pale"), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 131, 88 L.Ed.2d 208 (1985).

A claim of discrimination need not be proven solely through direct evidence; circumstantial evidence may support an inference of discrimination. See United States Postal Service v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 714 n. 3, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 1481 n. 3, 75 L.Ed.2d 403 (1983); Loeb v. Textron, Inc., 600 F.2d 1003, 1017 (1st Cir.1979). Indeed, discrimination can often be of such a subtle, insidious character that a plaintiff may only be able to offer circumstantial evidence to buttress his or her claim. As this court has ruled, circumstantial evidence of a discriminatory atmosphere at a plaintiff's place of employment is relevant to the question of motive in considering a discrimination claim. While evidence of a discriminatory atmosphere may not be conclusive proof of discrimination against an individual plaintiff, such evidence does tend to add "color" to the employer's decisionmaking processes and to the influences behind the actions taken with respect to the individual plaintiff. See Sweeney v. Trustees of Keene State College, 604 F.2d 106, 113 (1st Cir.1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1045, 100 S.Ct. 733, 62 L.Ed.2d 731 (1980); cf. Lamphere v. Brown University, 685 F.2d 743, 749-50 (1982) (upholding the admission of statistical evidence of a general discriminatory atmosphere at a place of employment as relevant to a claim that the employer discriminated against the individual plaintiff). Thus, we cannot say that the district court erred in permitting testimony as to the statements of Olsson and Meissner as these statements tend to highlight the atmosphere and institutional state-of-mind present at Electro Switch during the plaintiff's period of employment.

The appellant has argued that the relationship between the Olsson and Meissner statements and the events and actors involved in the plaintiff's termination is too attenuated to support the district judge's assessment of the statements' probative value. Electro Switch challenges the relevancy of the Olsson statement on the grounds that Robert Olsson was not involved in the plaintiff's termination, and that his statement bore no relation to the plaintiff's termination since it was made approximately eight months before the plaintiff left the company. As for the statement of Mr. Meissner, the appellant argues that the connection is even more tenuous. In addition to claiming that Mr. Meissner was not involved in the plaintiff's termination, the appellant notes that the statement was made ten to twenty-two months before the events of October 1982, and that the statement refers to a different subject matter with respect to a different employee who worked in a separate department.

It is our view, however, that evidence of a corporate state-of-mind or a discriminatory atmosphere is not rendered irrelevant by its failure to coincide precisely with the...

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173 practice notes
  • Harris v. Marsh, No. 81-60-CIV-3
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • December 28, 1987
    ...evidence can also be used to prove state of mind. Aikens, 460 U.S. at 714 n. 3, 103 S.Ct. at 1481 n. 3; Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593 (1st Cir.1987) ("indeed, discrimination can be of such a subtle, insidious character that a plaintiff may only be able to offer circumstantial......
  • Colon v. Colomer, CIV. NO. 18-1360 (MDM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • August 6, 2020
    ...Standard Register Co., 265 F.3d 56, 63 (1st Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Conway v. Page 15Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593, 597 (1st Cir. 1987)). Finally, and that which is significant here, Ortiz rejects Vega's contentions and denies making such comments, thus c......
  • Putnam Resources v. Pateman, Nos. 91-1307
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • September 6, 1991
    ...the clear weight of the evidence such that upholding the verdict will result in a miscarriage of justice. Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593, 598-99 (1st Cir.1987) (citations omitted). Pateman's case survives scrutiny under these standards by a comfortable It is black letter law t......
  • Loeffler v. Frank, No. 86-1431
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 13, 1988
    ...to tort claims arising out of activities of the Postal Service." 5. See Brief for Respondent 9. See also Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593, 602 (CA1 1987); Green v. USX Corp., 843 F.2d 1511, 1530 (CA3 1988); United States v. Gregory, 818 F.2d 1114, 1118 (CA4), cert. denied, 484 U......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
172 cases
  • Harris v. Marsh, No. 81-60-CIV-3
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • December 28, 1987
    ...evidence can also be used to prove state of mind. Aikens, 460 U.S. at 714 n. 3, 103 S.Ct. at 1481 n. 3; Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593 (1st Cir.1987) ("indeed, discrimination can be of such a subtle, insidious character that a plaintiff may only be able to offer circumstantial......
  • Colon v. Colomer, CIV. NO. 18-1360 (MDM)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • August 6, 2020
    ...Standard Register Co., 265 F.3d 56, 63 (1st Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Conway v. Page 15Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593, 597 (1st Cir. 1987)). Finally, and that which is significant here, Ortiz rejects Vega's contentions and denies making such comments, thus c......
  • Putnam Resources v. Pateman, Nos. 91-1307
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • September 6, 1991
    ...the clear weight of the evidence such that upholding the verdict will result in a miscarriage of justice. Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593, 598-99 (1st Cir.1987) (citations omitted). Pateman's case survives scrutiny under these standards by a comfortable It is black letter law t......
  • Wells Real Estate, Inc. v. Greater Lowell Bd. of Realtors, No. 87-1238
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 1, 1988
    ...trial). Only an abuse of that discretion will trigger reversal of a denial of a motion for new trial. See Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593, 598 (1st Cir.1987); Sprague v. Boston & Maine Corp., 769 F.2d 26, 27-28 & n. 3 (1st Cir.1985), and cases cited therein. This is especially ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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