Goodman v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Com'n

Decision Date24 June 2002
Docket NumberNo. 00-2493.,No. 00-2340.,00-2340.,00-2493.
Citation293 F.3d 655
PartiesGary C. GOODMAN, Appellant, v. PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE COMMISSION; Bonney C. Daubenspeck; Mitchell Rubin; James F. Malone; James J. Dodaro; Bradley Mallory, in his capacity as Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioner; John Durbin; Deborah L. Everly, Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Edward M. Brennan (argued), Pottsville, Pennsylvania, for Gary C. Goodman.

Before: BECKER, Chief Judge, SLOVITER and AMBRO, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

AMBRO, Circuit Judge.

In this opinion we address two appeals. First, we consider the cross-appeal of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (the "Commission"). It contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in three respects: (1) in making three evidentiary rulings; (2) in denying its motions for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) and (b); and (3) in denying its motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Because we disagree with all of the Commission's contentions, we affirm. Second, we address Appellant Gary C. Goodman's claim that the Magistrate Judge abused his discretion by setting his attorney's fees, which the Commission pays pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, too low. We find no abuse of discretion and affirm.

I. Facts and Procedural History

As this appeal follows a jury verdict in Goodman's favor, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the winner. See United States v. Gricco, 277 F.3d 339, 348 (3d Cir.2002). Goodman began his career with the Commission in 1976 as an Equipment Operator in the maintenance department. After fifteen months, Goodman moved into fare collections and received training as a Toll Collector before becoming an Assistant District Manager. In that capacity, Goodman reported to Frank Flaherty, the District Manager. In December of 1994, Flaherty retired, leaving a vacancy in his position as District V Manager for Fare Collections. On December 23, 1994, the Commission named Goodman Acting District Manager1 and posted the promotion opportunity.

The Commission follows specific policies governing the promotion process outlined in Policy Letter 65, Policy and Procedure for Promoting Employees. Policy Letter 65 was adopted in 1992, after consultation with outside legal counsel, to improve the efficiency and fairness of promotion decisions, and to comply with the United States Supreme Court's decision in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62, 110 S.Ct. 2729, 111 L.Ed.2d 52 (1990), which held that public employers could be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First Amendment for discriminating against certain employees because of their political affiliation. After a job vacancy is properly posted and interested applicants submit the required material, all qualified applicants are sent to the pertinent department head, here the head of Fare Collections. An interview committee from the Fare Collections Department, consisting of the department head and other managers, then conducts interviews. The interview committee forwards the top three to six candidates to the Personnel Committee, a five member board that makes personnel recommendations. It must provide the Personnel Committee with a written explanation, based on a set of written criteria, stating why it chose the particular candidates. The Personnel Committee then reviews the attributes of the top candidates and selects a single candidate to recommend to the Turnpike Commissioners (the "Commissioners"), who by statute must make the final decision. Commission policy requires that the Personnel Committee prepare a report for the Commissioners that explains the Committee's recommendation. The Commissioners then accept or reject the recommendation. Typically, they approve the Personnel Committee's recommendation.

The Commission's governing body comprises four Turnpike Commissioners who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by a two-thirds majority of the State Senate. The Secretary of Transportation sits as a fifth member with the Commissioners. During the promotion process for the District V Manager for Fare Collections position, the Commissioners were Robert A. Brady, James J. Dodaro, Robert A. Gleason, Jr., James F. Malone, and Secretary of Transportation Bradley Mallory. From 1985 until the time of trial, the Commissioners were balanced in terms of political affiliation, two Democrats and two Republicans. The Secretary of Transportation, however, tipped the scale in the direction of the political party of the Governor. The Personnel Committee, at the relevant time, consisted of Executive Director John Durbin, Associate Executive Director Deborah Everly, Risk Manager Dennis Genevie, Assistant Executive Director Melvin Shelton, and Assistant Executive Director Michael Kennedy. Each Commissioner is represented by one member of the Personnel Committee, thus maintaining the same split in political affiliation among the Personnel Committee as among the Commissioners. Commissioner Brady was represented by Shelton, Commissioner Dodaro by Genevie, Commissioner Gleason by Everly, and Commissioner Malone by Kennedy. Durbin sat as a controlling, or swing, vote by virtue of his position as Executive Director.

The Commission posted the District V Manager position three times while Goodman was Acting District Manager. Goodman interviewed twice for the position. According to him, after the first interview, the Personnel Committee took no action because a new Governor of a different political party had been elected. Likewise, after the second posting, the Commission conducted no interviews. After the third posting, the Commission once again held interviews. Goodman, along with seven other candidates (including Lee Becker), was interviewed by Samuel Sadler, Deputy Executive Director for Fare Collections, and two other district managers in the Fare Collections Department. This interview committee recommended Goodman, Becker, and Andre Coleman to the Personnel Committee. These candidates obtained the three top scores on the interviews. The candidates were evaluated using such criteria as their education, prior management experience, training, computer literacy, communication skills, and knowledge of the Commission's rules and policies. Goodman received the top score, thirty-six out of a possible forty-one points, while Becker received twenty-nine points and Coleman received twenty points.

At its meeting in February 1996, the Personnel Committee asked Sadler, the member of the interview committee who had summarized the qualifications of each of the candidates, which candidate was best qualified. Goodman contends that Sadler stated that Goodman was the best qualified candidate and cited his fourteen months of service as Acting District Manager.2 Also, Goodman alleges that, after much discussion, the Personnel Committee voted on the candidate each member thought was the best. Genevie and Shelton voted for Goodman, while Durbin, Everly, and Kennedy voted for Becker. This vote was split along party lines: the two Democrats voted for Goodman and the three Republicans voted for Becker. Becker is a registered Republican and was the Ward Committeeman for East Penn Township. The Personnel Committee ultimately recommended Becker for the promotion and the Commissioners approved him on February 20, 1996.

Goodman then initiated suit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, relying on Rutan. He alleges that he was not promoted because he and his family members were registered, active Democrats, and because Becker was a registered Republican affiliated with, and supported by, State Senator James Rhoades. Goodman sued the Commission, as well as seven individual commissioners and executives associated with it. However, two individual defendants, Executive Director John Durbin and Associate Executive Director Deborah Everly, obtained summary judgment in their favor and the remaining individual defendants were voluntarily dismissed before trial. See Goodman v. Pa. Turnpike Comm., No. 96-cv-5921, 1998 WL 159046 (E.D.Pa. Mar.20, 1998) (dismissing Durbin and Everly). The action continued against the Commission and was referred, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and the consent of both parties, to the Magistrate Judge for trial.

A jury trial began on November 15, 1999, before Magistrate Judge Rapoport, with Goodman offering testimony and exhibits through nineteen witnesses describing the promotion process, the qualifications of the candidates for the promotion, and the facts supporting his claim that political discrimination was a substantial or motivating factor in his failure to receive the promotion. His arguments focused on the political rivalry between the Goodman family and Republican State Senator Rhoades. Goodman claims that political support from Senator Rhoades and his aide, Clyde "Champ" Holman, on behalf of Becker resulted in Becker being promoted instead of Goodman. Goodman produced evidence that Becker was endorsed by Senator Rhoades in a letter drafted by Holman and signed by the Senator. It was addressed to Samuel Carnabuci, Assistant Executive Director of the Western Regional Office of the Commission and a former member of its Personnel Committee. In the letter, Senator Rhoades lauded Becker, and stated that "[e]very possible consideration you can extend to Lee [Becker] in his quest for employment will be greatly appreciated." Goodman further testified that Becker told him that he (Becker) had met with Senator Rhoades and Holman to try to secure the District Manager position. Additionally, Holman testified that he and the Senator met with Commissioner Gleason, though it is unclear what that meeting concerned.3

Goodman, himself a member of the Democratic Party, also has deep family ties in partisan...

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