Peyton v. Dimario, 00-5407.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation287 F.3d 1121
Docket NumberNo. 00-5407.,00-5407.
PartiesMonica M. PEYTON, Appellee, v. Michael F. DiMARIO, The Public Printer of the United States, Appellant.
Decision Date23 April 2002

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 98cv00491).

Michael C. Johnson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were Roscoe C. Howard, Jr., U.S. Attorney, and R. Craig Lawrence, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Theodore S. Allison argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief was John W. Karr.

Before: GINSBURG, Chief Judge, EDWARDS and SENTELLE, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge SENTELLE.

SENTELLE, Circuit Judge:

Monica Peyton, a former employee of the Government Printing Office ("GPO"), brought this action against Michael F. DiMario, in his official capacity as Public Printer of the United States, alleging employment discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq. Peyton's hostile work environment claim and retaliation claim were tried to a jury, which issued a verdict for Peyton and awarded her $482,000 in compensatory damages. The district court decreased the compensatory damages award to the statutory cap of $300,000 in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D). The district court further awarded Peyton $78,476.90 as back pay and $377,615.72 as compensation for lost future earnings. The Public Printer (hereinafter referred to as "GPO") appealed, challenging only the damages and relief awarded. GPO contends the district court abused its discretion by: (1) awarding the statutory maximum in compensatory damages; (2) awarding back pay for a period when Peyton was in school; and (3) awarding future earnings that are unreasonably speculative. We affirm the district court as to its award of compensatory damages and back pay. However we agree with appellant that the future earnings awarded are unreasonably speculative and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background
A. Peyton's Employment at GPO

Appellee Monica Peyton worked for GPO for 11 years (from July 5, 1987 to August 14, 1998). She served in various GS-5 and GS-6 positions, including supply clerk and supply technician. In the fall of 1995 she was accepted into a 2-year proofreader apprenticeship program. Successful completion of the apprenticeship program leads to an appointment as a journeyman proofreader. The apprenticeship program consisted of on-the-job training as well as some classroom instruction. Apprentices were evaluated during each 13-week period of the 2-year training program. GPO set specific proof-reading standards (e.g., the number of keystrokes that must be read within an hour) and then taught the apprentices how to meet those standards. Throughout the training program GPO provides information to apprentices to allow them to access their reading speed at any time and periodically advises apprentices as to whether they are meeting expectations. Peyton's apprenticeship began in January 1996. Although she apparently failed to meet the number of key strokes per hour during one of the periods in 1996, Peyton continued successfully in the program. Then in 1997, she failed to meet the number of required keystrokes per hour for the July 6-October 4 period.

According to Peyton's evidence, a superior, Charlotte Massey, made lewd comments and gestures concerning Peyton's breasts on more than one occasion. Peyton complained to Massey directly and Massey ranted at her and intimidated her. Thereafter, Peyton made an informal complaint to GPO's Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office on July 1, 1997, and a formal complaint on August 15, 1997. Upon learning that Peyton had filed the informal complaint, Massey engaged in a pattern of harassment, including threats communicated directly and through co-workers. There was physical contact between Peyton and Massey, which Peyton characterized as a bump, or an elbowing, by Massey. Peyton complained to her superiors that her work was being adversely affected by the hostile environment of the proof room, but to no avail. Peyton was even told that she should drop her complaint. Ultimately, Peyton was distressed and fearful about approaching the head desk when Massey was assigned to work there.

According to GPO, Peyton's failure to meet the proofreading goal in 1997 resulted in her being given a 2-week delay, then a 12-week probation to improve. Peyton in fact began to improve. However, Peyton was misled as to when these probationary periods actually began and was ultimately expelled from the apprenticeship program in what had been represented to her as the fifth week of the scheduled 12-week probation. Peyton was released from the apprenticeship program in January 1998, though not terminated by GPO at that time. GPO placed her in the Library Programs Service, and ultimately she was terminated on August 14, 1998.

B. Proceedings Below

Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Peyton filed the action below in the district court. In her complaint (filed before she was fired), Peyton alleged sex discrimination in the forms of quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, as well as retaliation for pursuing her rights under Title VII. Subsequently she amended her complaint to allege that she was terminated from GPO as retaliation. The district court granted summary judgment for GPO on the quid pro quo claim but denied it with respect to the hostile work environment and retaliation claims. Peyton's hostile work environment and retaliation claims were tried to a jury in November 1999. The jury returned a unanimous verdict finding that Peyton proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, each element of her claim of sex discrimination on the basis of hostile or abusive work environment, and retaliation, against GPO. The jury awarded Peyton compensatory damages in the amount of $482,000.

The jury also sat in an advisory capacity on the issues of damages for past lost earnings and benefits, up to the time of trial, and damages for future lost earnings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 39(c). The jury returned an advisory verdict in which it found that plaintiff had proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that she was entitled to damages for past lost earnings and benefits, and to damages for future lost earnings. The advisory verdict recommended $50,000 for back pay and $840,000 for future lost earnings.

On the issues of entitlement to back pay and future lost earnings, the district court made findings of fact. The court agreed with the jury that Peyton "presented convincing and credible evidence proving that her co-workers' and supervisors' conduct had a material effect upon her ability to perform and upon her quality of life in the workplace." It found no credible explanation for the discrepancy between the time-frame of the probationary training period represented by GPO to Peyton, and the period actually treated as the probationary training period by GPO. The court found the evidence to establish that after being told of her probation on December 2, 1997, until her removal from the program, "Ms. Peyton performed above the required standards." The district court concluded as a matter of law that "[a]s a direct and proximate result of the retaliatory adverse employment actions taken against Ms. Peyton by officials of the GPO, Ms. Peyton failed to be promoted to journeyman proofreader, as of January 2, 1998, and was terminated from her employment with the GPO as of August 14, 1998. She has suffered compensatory damages and a loss of earnings and benefits as a direct and proximate result of these adverse employment actions."

C. Damages and Relief

Based on its findings, the district court awarded compensatory damages and equitable relief. First, the court reduced the amount of compensatory damages recoverable to $300,000, the statutory maximum under Title VII for an award against an employer with more than 500 employees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D). The court "determine[d] on the facts of this case" that $300,000 "represent[ed] a fair and appropriate compensatory award pursuant to the statutory cap at 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)." In denying GPO's Rule 59(a) and (e) motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, remittitur, the district court rejected the argument that this award of compensatory damages was "grossly excessive" because the case did not present "the `most egregious' instance of unlawful conduct meriting the `maximum amount recoverable under Title VII's statutory cap.'" Rather, the court determined "that the jury could reasonably view this case as the type of egregious, unlawful conduct that Title VII was designed to remedy." It distinguished this case from Nyman v. FDIC, 967 F.Supp. 1562, 1572 (D.D.C.1997), based on the physical assault of Peyton and GPO's manipulation of "the apprentice training rules in order to expel the plaintiff from the training program." It concluded that the "$300,000 award neither `shocks the conscience' nor represents a `miscarriage of justice.'"

The court awarded back pay and future lost earnings ("front pay") as equitable relief. It calculated back pay for three periods: January 2-August 14, 1998 (while Peyton was still at GPO); August 14-October 11, 1998 (from termination at GPO until employment by Bowne, Inc.); and October 11, 1998 to Trial (Peyton employed at Bowne, Inc.). It determined Peyton was entitled to an award of back pay in the amount of $78,476.90. The court rejected arguments by appellant GPO that Peyton inadequately mitigated her losses during the August-October period when she was unemployed. Noting that it is "the defendant's burden to prove that the plaintiff's efforts to secure employment constituted inadequate effort to mitigate damages," the court "conclude[d] that the defendant has failed to demonstrate that the plaintiff...

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