Martin v. Cavalier Hotel Corp.

Decision Date10 March 1995
Docket Number94-1666,Nos. 94-1600,s. 94-1600
Citation48 F.3d 1343
Parties67 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 300, 66 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 43,481, 63 USLW 2607, 41 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1018 Rosemary J. MARTIN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CAVALIER HOTEL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellant, and Daniel P. BATCHELOR, Defendant. Rosemary J. MARTIN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CAVALIER HOTEL CORPORATION; Daniel P. Batchelor, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: James A. Gorry, III, Taylor & Walker, P.C., Norfolk, VA, for appellant. John Michael Bredehoft, Charlson & Bredehoft, P.C., Fairfax, VA, for appellees. ON BRIEF: Elaine C. Bredehoft, Charlson & Bredehoft, P.C., Fairfax, VA; Carol E. Summers, Clark & Stant, P.C., Virginia Beach, VA, for appellees.

Before RUSSELL and MOTZ, Circuit Judges, and LAY, Senior Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge MOTZ wrote the opinion, in which Judge RUSSELL and Senior Judge LAY joined.


MOTZ, Circuit Judge:

The principal questions presented in this constructive discharge case are whether the corporate employer is responsible for the acts of its vice president and general manager and, if so, whether the plaintiff-employee produced sufficient evidence that her employer intended to force her to resign. Because we conclude that the district court was correct in determining that the answer to both questions is yes, and because there is no other basis for reversal, we affirm.


On February 24, 1993, Rosemary Martin filed a twelve-count complaint against Cavalier Hotel Corporation and its General Manager, Daniel Batchelor, charging them with sexual harassment and constructive discharge, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, et seq., and various state law claims. The district court bifurcated the jury trial for liability and damages purposes. At the conclusion of evidence in the liability phase, the court granted the defendants' motions for judgment on most of the state law claims. The defendants' motions for judgment as to the remaining claims were denied, and the claims were submitted to the jury. The jury found against Martin on her claims of sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury found in favor of Martin, against Batchelor, on her claim of common law assault and battery, and in favor of Martin, against Cavalier, on her claim of constructive discharge. The jury subsequently returned for the damages phase of the case, received evidence, and awarded Martin $30,000 compensatory damages and $50,000 punitive damages against Cavalier, and $7,000 compensatory damages and $15,000 punitive damages against Batchelor. Both Cavalier and Batchelor moved for judgment n.o.v., 1 which the district court denied. The district court awarded Martin $22,320 in back pay and certain attorney's fees and costs. Cavalier appeals from the district court's denial of its motion for judgment n.o.v. and from the award of back pay, attorney's fees, and costs. Martin cross-appeals as to the amount of attorney's fees and costs awarded. Batchelor did not file an appeal.

The following is a summary of the relevant evidence supporting the jury's verdict. Cavalier Hotel Corporation operates the Cavalier Hotel, located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and employs approximately 500 employees during the summer season and approximately 250 employees during the remainder of the year. Martin began working at the Cavalier in April, 1987 as a cashier and was promoted to director of payroll and personnel approximately one year later; she served in that capacity until her resignation in 1992. By all accounts Martin was a competent employee, the recipient of at least two "Employee-of-the-Month" awards during her service at the hotel. Batchelor had worked at the Cavalier for eighteen years prior to trial, holding various positions of increasing responsibility at the hotel. In 1987 he became an officer of the Cavalier Hotel Corporation; in December, 1989 he was made the General Manager of the hotel, a corporate Vice President, and one of the four members of the corporation's Board of Directors. At that time he also became Martin's direct supervisor. Batchelor had, and has, full authority to determine employee bonuses and to hire, fire, promote, and discipline employees at the hotel. Moreover, the Cavalier Employee Handbook, which prohibits sexual discrimination, harassment, and abuse in the workplace, provides that all complaints as to such acts are to be reported to Batchelor.

Nobody was "above" Batchelor at the Cavalier except the other three members of the Board of Directors, which included its Chairman, Gene Dixon, and Dixon's wife. Dixon's family controlled the corporation that owned the hotel. The Dixons lived three hours away from the hotel most of the year but stayed on the hotel property for "parts of July and August." In the past twenty years, Dixon had attended only one of the hotel's weekly senior staff meetings. He did not remember ever having a conversation with Martin and did not know her job title prior to trial. Neither his name nor his office or home telephone numbers are listed in the Employee Handbook. Dixon testified that after this lawsuit was filed, he never made any inquiry as to its merits or asked Batchelor if he had done "what he's accused of." By Dixon's own account, his investigation of Martin's charges consisted of walking around the hotel property and looking "in people's eyes [to] see whether they have anything--I believe I can tell when people want to talk."

At trial, Batchelor categorically denied ever harassing or assaulting Martin. In contrast, Martin testified about a number of times, beginning in 1988, that Batchelor harassed and assaulted her. The first two incidents occurred in 1988 or early 1989, when on one occasion Batchelor attempted to kiss Martin and on another he nudged her and told her he wanted to take her to a hotel and "stick something between her legs." The abuse escalated in 1992. In February of that year, Batchelor called Martin into his office, placed a "Meeting in Progress" sign on his office door, locked it, put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming, and committed oral and anal sodomy on her. During the attack, Martin "cried like a baby." At the beginning of March, Batchelor asked Martin to remain after a regularly scheduled senior staff meeting in one of the hotel conference rooms, locked the door, and forced her to engage in oral sex. Martin submitted to Batchelor's demands because "[w]hen he tells you to do something, you do it or else." When abusing her, Batchelor assertedly told Martin that "if I didn't obey him, that I could pack my stuff and leave." At the end of March, Batchelor raped Martin. On another occasion he forced her to lick his penis in the hotel's accounting office. Martin did not tell anyone about the abuse because "if I would have told anybody, I would have got fired [sic]....[H]e would have fired me if I would have said anything."

Martin finally decided that she "couldn't handle what he was doing to me" and resigned in May, 1992. After resigning, Martin travelled to Maryland to live with her sister, where she was unable to work for several months. Martin has been diagnosed with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder and suffers from nightmares, insomnia, and severe weight loss assertedly as a result of her experiences at the Cavalier Hotel.

Martin testified that before the effective date of her resignation, she told her successor, the incoming personnel manager, that Batchelor had sexually harassed her. At trial, the new personnel director confirmed that Martin had confided this to him but testified that he took no action because he did not believe Martin. Before resigning, Martin also told another hotel employee about the harassment. She did not report the harassment to Dixon, explaining that even though she periodically saw Dixon and his wife on the hotel property and mailed him bi-weekly financial reports, Batchelor was the General Manager of the hotel and had total authority over all employees. She felt it was useless to report Batchelor's conduct to Dixon and his wife because they treated Batchelor "like a son [and] wouldn't believe anything that I would have to say." When Martin informed Batchelor of her intent to resign, "[h]e just looked and snickered. He didn't say anything." When she attempted to explain why she was leaving, "he just snickered again and turned his head."


Cavalier's principal contention is that the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment n.o.v. on Martin's claim for constructive discharge. 2 In reviewing the denial of a motion for judgment n.o.v., an appellate court must view "all of the evidence in the light most favorable to [the non-moving party], drawing all reasonable inferences in [that party's] favor...." Johnson v. Hugo's Skateway, 974 F.2d 1408, 1412 (4th Cir.1992). If there is "substantial evidence opposed to the motion, that is, evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fair-minded men in the exercise of impartial judgment could reasonably return a verdict for the nonmoving party, the motion should be denied...." Wyatt v. Interstate & Ocean Transport Co., 623 F.2d 888, 891 (4th Cir.1980). An appellate court is expressly prohibited from weighing the evidence or assessing the credibility of witnesses. Taylor v. Home Ins. Co., 777 F.2d 849, 854 (4th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 476 U.S. 1142, 106 S.Ct. 2249, 90 L.Ed.2d 695 (1986).

To recover under a theory of constructive discharge, a plaintiff must show that his or her "employer deliberately ma[de] an employee's working conditions intolerable and thereby force[d] him to quit his job." Bristow v. Daily Press, Inc., 770 F.2d 1251, 1255 (4th Cir.1985), ...

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