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Umpleby v. Potter & Brumfield

November 3, 1995

JOHN W. UMPLEBY,

PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

POTTER & BRUMFIELD, INCORPORATED, A SIEMENS COMPANY,

DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division. No. 91 C 152--Gene E. Brooks, Judge.

Before CUDAHY, COFFEY, and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 23, 1995

DECIDED NOVEMBER 3, 1995

On May 11, 1994, John Umpleby ("Umpleby") prevailed in an age discrimination suit against his former employer, Potter and Brumfield, Inc. ("P&B") in Princeton, Indiana. Because the jury was given a form of verdict that misstated the law and allowed it to render a verdict on evidence that would be insufficient to prove P&B liable under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. sec. 621 et seq. ("ADEA"), we reverse and remand for a new trial.

I. Background

P&B manufactures and sells electromechanical relays, solid state relays, and circuit breakers. Through the early 1970's the company had been profitable. The company, apparently because it did not invest in the technology necessary to create new and successful products, became increasingly unable to compete in the global marketplace. P&B's profits began to fall in the late 1970's and from 1981 through 1985 the company experienced a 2 percent to 3 percent loss of sales per year. As a result, P&B was put up for sale in 1985. Siemens, an international corporation headquartered in Germany, purchased the company. In an effort to turn things around, the company hired Roy Slavin as president and CEO. Slavin embarked on a strategy that included shifting product priorities and discontinuing some product lines. He also instituted, among other things, wage freezes, special retirement options, and involuntary reductions-in-force ("RIF") to help the company achieve its goals.

Umpleby began employment with P&B in 1964. He was originally a technician who focused on developing solid state electronic relays, but was moved to P&B's marketing division in 1982. Although he did not have a college degree, Umpleby was classified as an "Application Engineer." In 1988, P&B formed a separate solid state group in order to focus on turning around the company's money-losing solid state business. Umpleby was moved to this group in 1989. But even with the reorganization the solid state products line continued to lose money and the solid state group was unable to operate successfully. P&B therefore decided to disband the group. Some of the employees in the group were merged back into P&B's main organization. The company also stopped making new investments in this area. As part of this transition, the company also decided to cut back personnel. Eventually five of the nine positions in the solid state group were eliminated. Umpleby's position was the second job cut.

Umpleby was 51 years old when he was terminated by P&B in April of 1991. Because he suspected that the company had selected him for termination based on his age, he sued P&B in October of 1991 under the ADEA. Umpleby also alleged state law claims for breach of contract and failure to rehire.

In January of 1993, P&B moved for summary judgment. The district court granted P&B's motion with regard to the state law claims but allowed the case to go to trial on Umpleby's age discrimination claim. Here Umpleby alleged two theories of liability. First, he alleged that P&B engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminating against older workers. Second, he alleged that he had received disparate treatment based on his age. At the close of plaintiff's evidence, P&B moved for judgment as a matter of law on both claims. The district court granted P&B's motion on the pattern or practice claim because Umpleby had not presented sufficient evidence to enable a reasonable juror to find that P&B had engaged in a pattern or practice of age discrimination. The court denied the other motion, however, and allowed the case to proceed under the disparate treatment theory. Over P&B's objection, the court also allowed Umpleby to use evidence that P&B engaged in a pattern of discrimination in order to prove that P&B possessed a discriminatory intent when it fired him. Before the jury retired to consider the case, P&B requested that the judge instruct the jury not to consider what P&B called plaintiff's "pattern or practice evidence" when evaluating P&B's intent to discriminate (or lack thereof) against Umpleby. The district court denied P&B's request. The jury then found in favor of Umpleby in an amount totaling $234,854.00. After the jury returned its verdict, P&B orally moved for judgment as matter a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial. Both motions were denied and P&B now appeals.

II. Analysis

P&B raises three issues on appeal. First, P&B alleges that Umpleby failed to present sufficient evidence of P&B's intent to discriminate against him on the basis of age and therefore the district court erred in denying its request for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial. Second, P&B alleges that the special verdict form was misleading and stated the wrong level of liability for which an employer may be liable under ADEA. Third, P&B alleges that it was error to admit evidence that the company engaged in a pattern or practice of age discrimination to prove intent in Umpleby's individual disparate treatment case and that it was also error to deny P&B's requested instruction to the jury on this point.

A.

First we address P&B's allegations that the district court erred in failing to grant its motion for judgment as a matter of law, or in the alternative, a new trial. Both parties present extensive discussion on the issue in their briefs. We have also spent a considerable time reviewing and analyzing the record. With that it would appear that the evidence in this case may be insufficient to support a finding of age discrimination. Although P&B may have a persuasive argument for reversal, the issue is not properly before us on appeal. At the close of the plaintiff's evidence, P&B did present a detailed motion for judgment as a matter of law. At that point the court granted part of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), however, requires that any motion not granted be renewed at the close of all the evidence. Downes v. ...


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