Engquist v. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture

Decision Date08 February 2007
Docket NumberNo. 05-35170.,No. 05-35263.,05-35170.,05-35263.
PartiesAnup ENGQUIST, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. OREGON DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE; Joseph (Jeff) Hyatt; John Szczepanski, Defendants-Appellants. Anup Engquist, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Oregon Department of Agriculture; Joseph (Jeff) Hyatt; John Szczepanski, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Stephen L. Brischetto, Portland, OR, for plaintiff-appellee and cross-appellant.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon; Donald C. Ashmanskas, Magistrate Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV 02-1637 AS.

Before: REINHARDT, TASHIMA, and GRABER, Circuit Judges.

TASHIMA, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Anup Engquist ("Engquist") brought suit alleging violations of federal anti-discrimination law, constitutional law, and state tort law against her former employer, the Oregon Department of Agriculture ("ODA") and John Szczepanski ("Szczepanski") and Joseph Hyatt ("Hyatt"). A jury found the individual defendants liable for constitutional violations of equal protection and substantive due process, and for intentional interference with contract. The jury awarded Engquist $175,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Pursuant to Oregon law, $75,000 of the punitive damages were allocated to Oregon's Criminal Injuries Compensation Account ("State Account"). Szczepanski and Hyatt (collectively "Defendants") appeal, contending that the constitutional claims are invalid as a matter of law. Engquist cross-appeals, contending that a jury verdict from a co-worker's similar trial in state court should have been given preclusive effect, or that it should have been admitted into evidence. She also challenges the allocation of $75,000 of the punitive damages awarded to her to the State Account. We have jurisdiction over the appeal and cross-appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We hold that Engquist's constitutional claims are invalid as a matter of law, and remand the case to the district court to adjust Engquist's damages and attorneys' fees awards in light of that holding. We affirm on Engquist's cross-appeal.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Engquist was hired in 1992 as an international food standards specialist for the Export Service Center ("ESC"), a laboratory in the ODA. She was hired by Norma Corristan ("Corristan"), who was the director of the ODA's Laboratory Services Division ("LSD"), which included the ESC. Engquist's initial responsibility was to develop a database of food regulations for different countries, but she later focused on marketing the ESC's certification services and consulting with clients.

Hyatt had been employed by the ODA since 1990, and worked in the LSD from 1990 to 2000 as a systems analyst. Engquist had repeated difficulties with Hyatt, and complained to Corristan several times that Hyatt excessively monitored her and made false statements about her. Corristan responded to complaints from Engquist and others about Hyatt by meeting with his supervisor, and requiring him to attend diversity and anger management training.

In June 2001, Szczepanski, who was an Assistant Director of the ODA, took over oversight of the ESC, and sought to fill the vacant ESC manager position. During the summer of 2001, Szczepanski told a client that he could not "control" Engquist, and that Engquist and Corristan "would be gotten rid of." In the fall of 2001, Hyatt told a co-worker that he and Szczepanski were working to "get rid of" Corristan and Engquist. Hyatt drafted a plan to reorganize the ESC, and emailed it to Szczepanski, and Szczepanski subsequently implemented it. Engquist and Hyatt both applied for the ESC manager position. Although Engquist had a more extensive educational background and more experience with the customer-service aspects of the position, Hyatt was offered the position effective October 2001. Szczepanski defended that decision by explaining that he chose Hyatt because of Hyatt's business experience and work as a chemist at the ODA.

On October 5, 2001, the Governor announced that the state was experiencing a budget crisis and called for budget reductions. Soon afterwards, Szczepanski eliminated Corristan's position, allegedly because of the budget crisis. Near the end of 2001, Hyatt told a former ODA employee, then an ESC client, that Corristan and Engquist had run the ESC "into the ground," they were on their way out, and he would take over and put it all back together. On January 31, 2002, Engquist was informed that her position was being eliminated due to the reorganization. Pursuant to her collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), Engquist was given the opportunity to "bump" into another position. Engquist, however, was found unqualified for the only position at her level, and thus was unable to "bump" into it.

Since being laid off, Engquist has applied for approximately 200 jobs, but has not been offered a full-time job. She started her own food consulting business, doing the same type of work she did at the ESC. This business, though, does not pay enough to sustain her, and may be losing money. Defendants' vocational expert testified that there are very few opportunities in Oregon for work in Engquist's fields— microbiology, food technology, and food science. Engquist's vocational expert testified that it was not probable that Engquist would find employment in her occupation.

Prior to Engquist's trial, Corristan successfully filed suit against Defendants in state court, and a jury awarded Corristan $1.1 million in damages. That jury found that Hyatt discriminated against Corristan because of her gender or ethnicity, and that Defendants violated her equal protection and procedural due process rights.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In her complaint, Engquist alleged claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.), 42 U.S.C. § 1981, equal protection, procedural and substantive due process, and intentional interference with contract. She sought economic, non-economic, and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all the claims. The district court granted the motion as to the sexual harassment and procedural due process claims, and denied it with respect to the remaining claims. Defendants made a second motion for summary judgment, specifically challenging Engquist's use of the "class-of-one" theory of equal protection. The court denied the motion, concluding that the claim was viable.

The district court rejected Engquist's request that the court give preclusive effect to the jury finding of discrimination in Corristan's state court lawsuit against Defendants. The district court granted Defendants' motion in limine to exclude from evidence the verdict in Corristan's state court case.

The remaining claims proceeded to an 11-day jury trial. After Engquist rested her case-in-chief, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law, again challenging the equal protection and substantive due process claims. Defendants also asserted that they were entitled to qualified immunity on the constitutional claims. The district court denied the motions.

Defendants renewed their motions after the close of evidence, and the court again denied them. Defendants also objected to the jury instructions on the constitutional claims, arguing that those claims should not have been submitted to the jury. Those objections were overruled.

The jury concluded that Defendants were liable for violations of equal protection and substantive due process, as well as on the contract interference claim. The jury rejected Engquist's Title VII and § 1981 claims against all Defendants. The jury awarded Engquist $175,000 in compensatory damages, which were not specifically tied to any particular successful claim. The jury awarded Engquist $125,000 in punitive damages on the equal protection claim, and $125,000 in punitive damages on the contract interference claim.

Following the verdict, Defendants filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which the court denied. In addition, Engquist objected to the form of the judgment, presumably because the judgment listed the State of Oregon as a judgment creditor, but the district court overruled her objection. The court entered judgment in favor of Engquist, which consisted of $175,000 in compensatory damages and $175,000 in punitive damages. The court entered judgment in favor of the State Account in the amount of $75,000, or 60 percent of the punitive damages awarded on the state tort claim, pursuant to Or.Rev.Stat. § 31.735. The court also awarded Engquist $172,740 in attorneys' fees, as well as costs. Defendants timely filed a notice of appeal, and Engquist timely filed her notice of cross-appeal.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo a district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Janes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 279 F.3d 883, 886 (9th Cir. 2002). We also review constitutional claims de novo. Masnauskas v. Gonzales, 432 F.3d 1067, 1069 (9th Cir.2005). We review a jury verdict under the substantial evidence standard. Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 856 (9th Cir. 1999). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Id.

ANALYSIS
I. Equal Protection

This case presents several issues of first impression in this circuit, the first of which is whether the class-of-one theory of equal protection is applicable to public employment decisions. The jury concluded that Defendants were liable on the equal protection claim because Defendants "intentionally treat[ed] the plaintiff differently than others similarly situated with respect to the denial of her promotion,...

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