E.E.O.C. v. HBE Corp.

Decision Date27 January 1998
Docket NumberNos. 96-4107,97-1656,s. 96-4107
Citation135 F.3d 543
Parties76 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 495, 72 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 45,241, 48 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 866 EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellee, Bruce M. Ey, Intervenor Below-Appellee, v. HBE CORPORATION, doing business as Adam's Mark Hotel, Defendant-Appellant. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellee, Dewey R. Helms, Intervenor Below-Appellee, v. HBE CORPORATION, doing business as Adam's Mark Hotel, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Thomas Walsh (argued), St. Louis, MO (Elizabeth C. Carver and Timothy A. Garnett, on the brief), for Appellant.

John Suhre, argued, Washington, DC, for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mary Anne Sedey, argued, St. Louis, MO (Jon A. Ray, on the brief), for Dewey R. Helms.

Lisa S. Van Amburg, St. Louis, MO, for Bruce M. Ey.

Before McMILLIAN, BRIGHT, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

HBE Corporation, doing business as Adam's Mark Hotel (Adam's Mark), appeals from a judgment in favor of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and former employees Dewey Helms and Bruce Ey on claims of racial discrimination and retaliatory discharge. Appellees were awarded front pay and injunctive relief under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2 and 2000e-3, and back pay, lost benefits, and punitive damages under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 213.055 and 213.070 (West 1997). Appellant seeks judgment in its favor on the retaliatory discharge claim and a new trial on the racial discrimination claim. It also objects to the awards of front pay, punitive damages, and attorney fees and to the scope of injunctive relief. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I.

Helms and Ey were employees at the Adam's Mark until they were discharged on September 12, 1991. At that time Dewey Helms, an African American, had been the employment manager since February 12, 1990, and Bruce Ey had been the director of personnel since April 8, 1991. Helms' initial performance review had rated him "satisfactory plus" and reflected "very good feedback" from management. An August, 1991 performance review said he "exceeds standards" although it was later changed to "meets standards" when Maurice Briquet, the general manager of the hotel, said he did not want managers described as exceeding standards. The turnover rate of hourly employees steadily declined during Helms' tenure at the Adam's Mark. Managers of various divisions said he was easy to work with and that he consistently referred qualified, reliable applicants for employment positions. Based on this record Bruce Ey, who was Helms' superior in the personnel department, recommended that Helms receive an 8.7 percent salary increase, an above average raise.

On September 5, 1991 Ey recommended to Erick Ohlsson, the corporate director of personnel, that Helms be promoted to the vacant position of assistant director of personnel. The Adam's Mark executive committee coordinated operations at the hotel, and it supported the promotion. Helms was the first African American to be employment manager and was one of four blacks among the seventy nine managers at the hotel. The four black managers were among the lowest paid. Ey testified at trial that blacks held about half of the non-management positions at the hotel and that the labor pool in St. Louis was predominantly black.

Fred Kummer, the chief executive officer and primary owner of the Adam's Mark corporate parent, controlled personnel decisions at the hotel and was closely involved in employment matters. Kummer testified at trial that he decided to fire Helms because the personnel department was "a disaster." He stated that in the personnel files for which Helms was responsible there were incomplete applications and reference checks, unexplained gaps in employment histories, and failures to note changes in applicants' compensation patterns. After Kummer expressed his desire to terminate Helms, Ohlsson audited seven of his personnel files on September 10, 1991. He discovered that all seven met company requirements for employment histories, reference checks, and full completion. They did not reveal the deficiencies given as a reason to fire Helms.

When Ohlsson told Ey that the corporate office wanted to fire Helms, Ey objected. Ey believed that the decision to fire Helms was racially motivated. On September 6, Briquet had told him that Kummer wanted to get rid of Helms because it was getting "too dark" in Chestnut's (a cafe near the front entrance in the Adam's Mark) since Helms was "hiring too many blacks." Briquet had earlier told Ey at his job interview that Helms was "a good man, but they're worried about two blacks in there" and that "I think we can handle that." Mike Hess, a former director of corporate personnel, told Ey that Kummer's policy was to exclude blacks from important positions at the hotel such as general manager or director of personnel. Ey spoke with general manager Briquet and other members of the executive committee in an attempt to prevent Helms' discharge.

When Ohlsson asked Ey on September 12 how he planned to terminate Helms, Ey said he would not do it because he thought the decision was racially motivated. Ohlsson then called Kummer and Robert Coleman, the vice president of operations, to inform them about Ey's position. They directed Ohlsson to discharge both Ey and Helms, and he did so immediately. Helms was the first employment manager to be fired at the hotel; all previous managers had either left voluntarily or been promoted. Kummer testified at trial that he was angry when Ey recommended Helms for assistant director of personnel because that position was being eliminated to save money. He claimed it was for this reason that he decided to discharge Ey and that he told Ohlsson and Coleman to terminate him at an appropriate time.

Helms and Ey filed complaints with the EEOC which decided to file these lawsuits under Title VII on their behalf. Helms and Ey then intervened, asserting claims under both Title VII and the MHRA. The two cases were consolidated for trial which lasted over three weeks. The jury found for Helms on his MHRA claim of racial discrimination and awarded him $52,657 in back pay and lost benefits and $3,800,000 in punitive damages. The jury also found in favor of Ey on his claim of retaliatory discharge and awarded him $60,000 in back pay and benefits and $1,000,000 in punitive damages. On the Title VII claims the court awarded front pay to Helms in the amount of $68,239 and to Ey in the amount of $131,571. The court also granted a permanent injunction against Adam's Mark to prevent future discrimination, to provide for reporting to the EEOC, and to redress the harm to Helms and Ey. Finally, the court awarded Helms and Ey attorney fees and costs: $89,313.50 to Helms and $158,204.43 to Ey.

Adam's Mark filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial, as well as a request for remittitur. The district court denied these motions, and Adam's Mark appealed from the judgment and the denial of its post trial motions. 1 Adam's Mark claims the two cases should not have been consolidated, objects to certain evidentiary rulings, and argues that the evidence was insufficient for a retaliatory discharge claim or for punitive damages. It also objects to the amount of the punitive damage and front pay awards and to the scope of equitable relief.

II.

Adam's Mark argues that the district court erred in consolidating the cases of Helms and Ey, in allowing a jury trial on their MHRA claims, and in failing to bifurcate the issues of liability and punitive damages. It complains that the consolidation permitted evidence relevant only to Helms to be considered in connection with Ey and permitted the MHRA claims to be heard by a jury. It also argues that trying liability at the same time as punitive damages led to the introduction of inflammatory evidence which improperly affected the result.

All claims and issues sharing common aspects of law or fact may be consolidated to avoid unnecessary cost or delay, Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a), and consolidation should be upheld unless there has been a clear abuse of discretion, EPA v. City of Green Forest, Arkansas, 921 F.2d 1394, 1402 (8th Cir.1990). Consolidation is inappropriate, however, if it leads to inefficiency, inconvenience, or unfair prejudice to a party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(b).

These cases have common questions of law and fact. Appellees all sought to present similar evidence about a climate of racial hostility at the Adam's Mark and the events immediately preceding and following Helms discharge. This evidence was relevant to establish both why Helms was fired and why Ey had a reasonable belief that it was because of racial discrimination. Evans v. Kansas City, Missouri School District, 65 F.3d 98, 100 (8th Cir.1995), cert denied 517 U.S. 1104, 116 S.Ct. 1319, 134 L.Ed.2d 472 (1996) (retaliatory discharge plaintiffs can show they engaged in protected conduct by opposing employer practices based on a reasonable belief of discrimination); Estes v. Dick Smith Ford, 856 F.2d 1097, 1103 (8th Cir.1988) (evidence of employer's racial bias permits inference of racial discrimination in employment decision). It was therefore appropriate to consolidate these claims and avoid the inefficiency of separate trials involving related parties, witnesses, and evidence.

Adam's Mark argues that consolidation allowed the MHRA claims to be tried to a jury when they could not have been in state court. The availability of a jury trial is a question of federal law, however, even when state claims are being tried. Gipson v. KAS Snacktime Co., 83 F.3d 225, 230 (8th Cir.1996). Because MHRA permits the recovery of money damages, it is considered a traditional legal action for which a jury trial is available in federal court. Id. In the...

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