Schobert v. Illinois Dept. of Transp., 01-1598.

Decision Date16 September 2002
Docket NumberNo. 01-1598.,01-1598.
PartiesGerald SCHOBERT and Ronald E. Werner Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Curtis L. Blood (Argued), Collinsville, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Richard S. Huszagh (Argued), Office of the Attorney General, Civil Appeals Division, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before POSNER, COFFEY, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judge.

This appeal follows a jury verdict in favor of the defendant Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). Gerald Schobert and Ronald Werner, maintenance workers for IDOT, accused their employer of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. They argued unsuccessfully to the jury that IDOT discriminated against men by permitting the one woman in the maintenance department to be a "beneficiary" of what they called quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. They also maintained that they were retaliated against after complaining about the discrimination. Schobert and Werner now appeal the district court's denial of their motion for a new trial, arguing that the jury was improperly instructed. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

I

Schobert and Werner were employees in IDOT's highway sign shop in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Their responsibilities included installing and maintaining signs, marking pavement, and painting lines on the highway. One — and only one — of their colleagues was female: Tame Roth. Much of their trial testimony centers around her, and the preferential treatment they believed she received. Werner and Schobert testified that Roth received special treatment because of her sex. For example, Werner claimed that he saw Roth sit in a suggestive way on Blake Pfannebecker, the lead worker responsible for determining assignments. Schobert also claimed Roth once took her shirt off in front of an assistant technician (a position above other lead workers such as Pfannebecker).

In addition, Werner and Schobert testified that Roth received special treatment at the sign shop. They maintained that Roth was not required to do the more difficult and dangerous jobs and that she never performed the preventative maintenance work on her assigned truck required of other employees. Schobert further claimed that when he was forced to work with Roth, all the undesirable assignments were reassigned to either him or other male employees.

In September 1997, Schobert backed a truck into another vehicle, causing substantial damage. He was given notice of a pre-disciplinary hearing to review the incident. After Schobert received the notice, he filed an internal complaint of sex discrimination because his complaints regarding Roth's special treatment were being ignored. In his complaint, he asserted that IDOT provided Roth preferential treatment because of her sex. Schobert, this time with Werner's signature as well, then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) again alleging sex discrimination.

IDOT interviewed Schobert, Werner and others regarding the internal sex discrimination complaint. Soon after the interview, Schobert and Werner first experienced what they considered to be retaliation. Their complaints range from being forced to work in unsafe conditions to being unfairly subject to discipline. For example, Schobert testified that he was forced to use a cutting torch near natural gas, that he was assigned to dig on an interstate that had not yet been "JULIE'd" (checked and marked for underground wires and utilities), and that he and Werner were forced to miss part of the training on safety harnesses. Schobert also alleged he was assigned for months to remove and install delineators (steel posts with reflectors on the side of the road) without proper equipment, even though such arduous work is ordinarily rotated. This assignment continued until he was forced to go on leave because of back and hand problems.

Schobert and Werner further testified that IDOT retaliated by giving them incorrect assignments and blaming them for other employees' mistakes — all conduct that could and did result in negative employment evaluations. For example, Schobert claims that Pfannebecker tried to get him to submit a false time sheet, that he and Werner were blamed for leaving the gate to the supply yard open, and that they were given conflicting assignment information by the supervisors and were then blamed for the resulting confusion. Schobert and Werner also complained that they were forced to work with Joe Marti, the crew chief at the sign shop, who would stop for lunch breaks in places that had no bathroom and where they could not purchase lunch as they liked to do. Finally, when Werner was crew leader he was reprimanded for unfairly rotating duties. Although some of these incidents led to negative evaluations, Schobert and Werner were never disciplined and continued to be employed by IDOT.

Although the jury heard all of this, most of what we have recounted thus far came from either Schobert and Werner. The problem for them, in a nutshell, is that the jury was not compelled to accept their version of these events, or their interpretation of the motivations behind these actions. Instead, at this stage we must take the facts in the light most favorable to IDOT, the winner of the jury verdict. EEOC v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Wis. Sys., 288 F.3d 296, 301 (7th Cir.2002). The jury had a considerable amount of evidence in front of it that was contrary to Schobert's and Werner's testimony, and it chose to believe IDOT's witnesses. IDOT denied it ever discriminated against or harassed Schobert or Werner. Roth and Pfannebecker maintained that she never sat on Pfannebecker's lap, and Roth also testified that she never removed her shirt in another employee's truck. Finally, IDOT offered testimony that Schobert expressed derogatory views about women generally, and that he openly expressed the opinion that women should not be in the workplace or have supervisory roles. Pfannebecker and Dan Myers, head of the sign shop, also testified that Schobert and Werner had personality conflicts with sign-shop management and that they did not make good-faith efforts to perform assignments.

After surviving pretrial motions, this case was tried to a jury on Schobert's sex discrimination claim as well as Schobert's and Werner's retaliation claims. At the close of evidence, the district court submitted a series of instructions to the jury. Schobert and Werner objected specifically to Court's Instructions 12 and 13. Court's Instruction 12 stated with reference to Schobert's sex discrimination claim:

Gerald Schobert claims that he sustained damages and that the Department of Transportation of the State of Illinois intentionally discriminated against him because of his sex in one or more of the following respects.

In giving him significantly worse job assignments than were given to a female employee.

In allowing a female employee to refuse undesirable job assignments.

Schobert further claims that the foregoing directly resulted in his damages.

Defendant denies that it discriminated against Schobert because of his sex and denies that any act or omission on its part directly resulted in Schobert's claimed damages. The defendant further denies that Schobert sustained damages.

Court's Instruction 12 contained similar instructions on Schobert's and Werner's retaliation claims.

Although we are only reproducing the portion of Court's Instruction 13 that applied to Schobert, the part of the instruction applicable to Werner's claim was identical. On the retaliation claims, Schobert and Werner each had to prove:

First, that the defendant intentionally acted in the way claimed by Schobert stated to you in these instructions;

Second, that Schobert suffered adverse employment action, as that term is defined in these instructions,

Third, that there was a causal connection between Schobert's internal claim of sex discrimination and/or his filing a Charge of Discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the adverse employment action,

Fourth, that Schobert suffered damages, Fifth, that Schobert's damages were a direct result of defendant's wrongful conduct....

Schobert and Werner argued Court's Instruction 12 improperly required the jury to find that Schobert and Werner sustained damages to prevail. They further objected to Court's Instruction 13, arguing that it incorrectly instructed the jury on the elements of a prima facie case for retaliation, which was no longer relevant after the case was submitted to the jury. The district court did not alter the instructions, emphasizing that Court's Instruction 13 was "not an instruction as to the prima facie case, but instead is an instruction as to the burden of proof."

The jury found in favor of IDOT, and Schobert and Werner filed a motion for a new trial, claiming they were prejudiced by the jury instructions. The district court denied the motion and they appeal from that order.

II

The centerpiece of the appeal is the attack on the jury instructions just set forth. Schobert and Werner claim that these instructions misstated the law and that they suffered prejudice from the inaccuracies. We review a district court's decision on a motion for a new trial only for abuse of discretion, as we recognize the district court is in a unique position to rule on the motion. Research Sys. Corp. v. IPSOS Publicite, 276 F.3d 914, 921 (7th Cir.2002). When a motion for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 is based on a challenge to jury instructions, we consider a trial court's jury instructions with deference, analyzing them as a whole to determine if they accurately stated the law and did not confuse the jury. Knox v. Indiana, 93 F.3d 1327, 1332 (7th Cir.1996); Maltby v. Winston, 36 F.3d 548, 560 (...

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