Kiely v. Teradyne, Inc.

Decision Date06 June 2014
Docket NumberNos. 13–P–505,13–P–1217.,s. 13–P–505
Citation85 Mass.App.Ct. 431,13 N.E.3d 615
PartiesDeborah KIELY v. TERADYNE, INC.
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

Emma Marion Quinn–Judge, Boston, for the plaintiff.

Jonathan D. Rosenfeld, Boston, for the defendant.

James A.W. Shaw, Boston, for National Employment Lawyers Association & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: KAFKER, FECTEAU, & AGNES, JJ.

Opinion

FECTEAU

, J.

These two separately docketed appeals arise from the same underlying case, namely claims brought by the plaintiff Deborah Kiely against the defendant, Teradyne, Inc. (Teradyne), for gender discrimination and retaliation. After an eight-day trial, the jury found for Teradyne on Kiely's discrimination claim and for Kiely on her retaliation claim; although Kiely failed to obtain any award of compensatory damages from the jury, they did award her $1.1 million in punitive damages.

Acting upon Teradyne's timely postjudgment motion under Mass.R.Civ.P. 50(b)

, as amended, 428 Mass. 1402 (1998), the trial judge denied Teradyne's request for full judgment notwithstanding the verdict (judgment n.o.v.) but allowed its alternative request to vacate, in its entirety, the jury's award of punitive damages. The judge also denied Kiely's motion for attorney's fees under G.L. c. 151B, § 9, as she was not a “prevailing party.”

Case No. 13–P–505 concerns Kiely's appeal from the modified judgment, in which she contends that her gender discrimination claim must be remanded for a new trial due to the trial judge's failure to give certain jury instructions and that the judge erred in vacating the punitive damages award on the retaliation claim. In its cross appeal, Teradyne contends that the judge erred in denying its motion for judgment n.o.v. as to Kiely's retaliation claim. We discern no error in the trial judge's jury instructions, her decision to vacate the jury's punitive damages award, or her denial of the defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v.

In No. 13–P–1217, Kiely contends separately that the judge erred in denying her postjudgment motion for attorney's fees under G.L. c. 151B, § 9

, even in the absence of compensatory or punitive damages. We disagree and affirm this order.

1. Background. Kiely worked at Teradyne from 1982 until

2006, primarily as a test technician in Teradyne's global customer services (GCS) department, which was responsible for repairing computer circuit boards returned to Teradyne from its customers around the world. In 2004, Kiely was promoted to group leader in the GCS repair group, a position that involved less repair work and more administrative duties.

Between 2000 and 2006, by a series of layoffs, Teradyne reduced the number of GCS test technicians from approximately thirty-one to three.1 Kiely survived these layoffs until November 2, 2006, when the last group of three test technicians, Kiely, Dennis Hodgdon, and Steve Senecal, were told they would be laid off effective December 2, 2006. Kiely filed a gender discrimination charge before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) on November 21, 2006, with notice being sent to Teradyne's general counsel's office and a human resources (HR) manager, Bill Burns.

Shortly after these layoffs, Teradyne's assembly test division (ATD), a different department from GCS where Kiely had been working, recognized a need for two test technicians to service a particular account. Jay Fitton, a manager in the ATD department, was designated to make the hiring decisions; he learned that Kiely, Hodgdon, and Senecal were the last three employees to have been let go from GCS and so he considered them for the two positions. Contrary to Teradyne's usual practice, none of the three was offered an interview or told that they were being considered for the newly available positions.

Burns, the HR manager, instructed Susan Blair, another HR manager, to tell Fitton to document the hiring decision.2

This directive was also a departure from Teradyne's typical hiring practice. Fitton testified, without contradiction, that the HR

department never explained the reasons why he was told to document the hiring process or that Kiely had filed a discrimination charge at the MCAD. Ultimately, the ATD department rehired Hodgdon, by December 6, 2006, and Senecal, by January 15, 2007. Fitton admitted that his inquiries concluded, as a practical matter, after learning of the technical skills of Hodgdon and Senecal, but that he had not learned of Kiely's. In a memorandum explaining his decision, Fitton stated he based his decision to rehire Hodgdon and Senecal on their superior qualifications as test technicians and on the fact that Kiely's most recent experience had been mostly administrative.

2. Discussion. a. Punitive damages. We first address Kiely's claim that the trial judge erred in allowing Teradyne's postjudgment motion to vacate the jury's punitive damages award. When considering a defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v., “the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and all evidence favorable to the [defendant] is disregarded.” Ciccarelli v. School Dept. of Lowell, 70 Mass.App.Ct. 787, 791, 877 N.E.2d 609 (2007)

. The verdict must be sustained if “anywhere in the evidence, from whatever source derived, any combination of circumstances could be found from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the plaintiff.” Haddad v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. (No. 1), 455 Mass. 91, 94 n. 5, 914 N.E.2d 59 (2009), quoting from Boothby v. Texon, Inc., 414 Mass. 468, 470, 608 N.E.2d 1028 (1993). Motions for judgment n.o.v. should be granted “cautiously and sparingly,” Wright & Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2524, at 248 (3d ed. 2008), and should be granted only if the trial judge is satisfied that the jury “failed to exercise an honest and reasonable judgment in accordance with the controlling principles of law.” Turnpike Motors, Inc. v. Newbury Group, Inc., 413 Mass. 119, 127, 596 N.E.2d 989 (1992), quoting from Robertson v. Gaston Snow & Ely Bartlett, 404 Mass. 515, 520, 536 N.E.2d 344, cert. denied, 493 U.S. 894, 110 S.Ct. 242, 107 L.Ed.2d 192 (1989). However, a party cannot avoid entry of judgment n.o.v. if any essential element of her case rests on a “mere scintilla” of evidence. Stapleton v. Macchi, 401 Mass. 725, 728, 519 N.E.2d 273 (1988), quoting from Hartmann v. Boston Herald–Traveler Corp., 323 Mass. 56, 59, 80 N.E.2d 16 (1948).

Chapter 151B provides for the award of punitive damages

in appropriate cases. Such damages ‘may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant's evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others.’ Ciccarelli v. School Dept. of Lowell, 70 Mass.App.Ct. at 795, 877 N.E.2d 609

, quoting from Dartt v. Browning–Ferris Indus., Inc. (Mass.), 427 Mass. 1, 17a, 691 N.E.2d 526 (1998). “An award of punitive damages requires a determination of the defendant's intent or state of mind, determinations properly left to the jury, whose verdict should be sustained if it could ‘reasonably have [been] arrived at ... from any ... evidence ... presented.’ Haddad v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. (No. 1), 455 Mass. at 107, 914 N.E.2d 59, quoting from Dartt v. Browning–Ferris Indus., Inc. (Mass.), supra at 16, 691 N.E.2d 526. Nonetheless, “the award of punitive damages cannot be left to the unguided discretion of the jury.” Bain v. Springfield, 424 Mass. 758, 769, 678 N.E.2d 155 (1997).

Such a review of punitive damages is essential given that they implicate constitutional principles. As the Supreme Judicial Court stated in Aleo v. SLB Toys USA, Inc., 466 Mass. 398, 412–413, 995 N.E.2d 740 (2013)

(citations omitted),

“The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ... prohibits the imposition of a “grossly excessive” punishment’ on a tortfeasor. ‘Elementary notions of fairness enshrined in our constitutional jurisprudence dictate that a person receive fair notice not only of the conduct that will subject him to punishment, but also of the severity of the penalty that a State may impose.’

Accordingly, [t]o the extent an award is grossly excessive, it furthers no legitimate purpose and constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of property.” Id. at 413, 995 N.E.2d 740

, quoting from State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 417, 123 S.Ct. 1513, 155 L.Ed.2d 585 (2003).

In Haddad v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc. (No. 1), 455 Mass. at 110–111, 914 N.E.2d 59

(Haddad ), the Supreme Judicial Court articulated the standard for an award of punitive damages under G.L. c. 151B:

“Punitive damages may be awarded only where the defendant's conduct is outrageous or egregious. Punitive damages are warranted where the conduct is so offensive that it justifies punishment and not merely compensation. In making an award of punitive damages, the fact finder should determine that the award is needed to deter such behavior toward the class of which plaintiff is a member, or that the defendant's behavior is so egregious that it warrants public condemnation and punishment.”

Whether a plaintiff has met this standard of “outrageous or egregious” conduct is to be measured by applying a number of nonexclusive factors set out in Haddad, supra at 111, 914 N.E.2d 59:(1)

“whether there was a conscious or purposeful effort to demean or diminish the class of which the plaintiff is a part (or the plaintiff because he or she is a member of the class); (2) “whether the defendant was aware that the discriminatory conduct would likely cause serious harm, or recklessly disregarded the likelihood that serious harm would arise”; (3) “the actual harm to the plaintiff; (4) “the defendant's conduct after learning that the initial conduct would likely cause harm”; and (5) “the duration of the wrongful conduct and any concealment of that conduct by the defendant.”

In her memorandum, the trial judge thoroughly addressed the Haddad factors and concluded, correctly in our view,...

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