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Weichert v. E-Finance Call Center Support

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 23, 2017

MARGARET WEICHERT, Plaintiff,
v.
E-FINANCE CALL CENTER SUPPORT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          KATHRYN H. VRATIL United States District Judge.

         Margaret Weichert brings suit against E-Finance Call Center Support, LLC and Encompass Consulting Group, LLC for race and gender discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and race discrimination and retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. From July 27 to 31, 2015, the Court conducted a jury trial which resulted in a verdict in favor of plaintiff on some claims.[1] This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion For A New Trial Or In The Alternative Motion To Amend The Judgment And Remittitur Of The Punitive Damage Award And Memorandum In Support Of Motion (Doc. #159) filed April 27, 2016. For reasons stated below, the Court overrules defendant's motion.

         I. Background Information

         A. Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff claims that in March of 2012, on account of race, PDL Support.com[2] paid her less than Jessica Jones and that she therefore suffered damages in the amount of $2, 253.33 in lost wages from March of 2012 through April of 2013. Plaintiff also claims that on April 30, 2012, PDL Support.com terminated her employment on account of race and gender and in retaliation for prior complaints of race and gender discrimination. Plaintiff claims that as a result of wrongful termination, she suffered damages in the amount of $39, 590.41 in back pay from May 1, 2012 through April 30, 2013, and $7, 353.32 in lost benefits, i.e. a total of $46, 943.73. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages and actual damages for emotional distress.

         B. Jury Verdict

         After a five-day trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiff on some claims. Specifically, the jury found for plaintiff on claims of (1) pay discrimination on account of race and (2) retaliatory discharge on account of prior complaints of race and gender discrimination. See Verdict (Doc. #136) filed July 31, 2015 at 1-2, 4, 6. The jury found in favor of defendants on plaintiff's claims of discriminatory discharge on account of race and gender. See id. at 3, 5.

         On plaintiff's pay discrimination claim, the jury awarded damages of $2, 253.33 for lost wages and $5, 000.00 for emotional distress. See id. at 2. In addition, the jury awarded punitive damages in the amount of $10, 000.00. See id.

         For retaliatory discharge based on complaints of race discrimination, the jury awarded $46, 943.73 in back pay and lost benefits, $43, 000.00 for emotional distress and $96, 000.00 in punitive damages. See id. at 4.

         For retaliatory discharge based on complaints of gender discrimination, the jury awarded $46, 943.73 for back pay and lost benefits, $43, 000.00 for emotional distress and $96, 000.00 in punitive damages. See id. at 6.

         C. Plaintiff's Stipulation And Other Discussions After Jury Verdict

         Before announcing the jury verdict, the Court reviewed it and noticed that the jury had awarded the exact same damages on each retaliation claim. This was potentially problematic because the same evidence supported each claim of retaliation and plaintiff had not presented evidence which would support two back pay/lost benefit awards of $46, 943.73 each. The Court therefore asked the jury foreperson whether the jury intended for plaintiff to recover separate amounts on each claim.[3] See Partial Transcript Of Jury Trial Verdict Excerpt (“Partial Transcript”) (Doc. #131) filed August 3, 2015 at 3:12-17. The foreperson (Juror No. 100605963) responded in the affirmative. Id. at 3:16-18. After the courtroom deputy read the verdict in open court, the Court asked counsel for a sidebar conference. See id. at 3-7. At sidebar, the Court noted that on the retaliation claims, the jury had awarded double damages for back pay and lost benefits in the exact same amount and that it could not tell whether the jury had done the same thing for emotional distress damages. Id. at 7:18-22. The Court proposed to return the verdict and instruct the jury to continue deliberations with further instructions regarding double recovery. See id. at 7:18-8:5. Plaintiff's counsel disagreed, and proposed to stipulate that the verdict on the retaliation claims should be construed as awarding one recovery. Specifically, counsel stated as follows:

Your Honor, given that they're identical on the wrongful discharge claim, maybe I should be more aggressive on this, but I believe there's one recovery. It was the same discharge. I don't believe that the back pay or the emotional distress or the punitive damages would be subject to double recovery.

Id. at 8:6-12.

         The Court clarified plaintiff's intent as follows:

THE COURT: So do you stipulate that the total amount - MR. SCHUMAKER: Yes.
THE COURT: And this would be consistent with your position on the instructions from the beginning that the retaliation claim was only one claim. So you would stipulate that the total recovery for retaliation under both theories would be $46, 943.73 . . . for back pay and lost benefits and $43, 000 for emotional distress and $96, 000 for punitives?
MR. SCHUMAKER: It pains me to say yes.
THE COURT: Okay.
MR. SCHUMAKER: I mean, I think there's one recovery. Clearly there's only one back pay award.

Id. at 8:13-9:3. Defendants agreed that the jury intended to award one recovery on the retaliation claims. See id. at 9:5-10. The Court responded that it could not tell what the jury intended but that based on plaintiff's stipulation, it would tell the jury that it would enter the judgment as a ...


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