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DAVID v. CATERPILLAR

January 16, 2002

LORI A. DAVID, PLAINTIFF,
V.
CATERPILLAR, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm, United States District Judge.

ORDER

This matter is now before the Court on Defendant, Caterpillar, Inc.'s ("Caterpillar"), Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, Alternatively, for a New Trial. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion [#135] is GRANTED IN PART with respect to the damages award and DENIED in all other respects.

BACKGROUND

This matter proceeded to trial by jury. On May 18, 2001, the jury returned a verdict that Caterpillar had retaliated against Plaintiff, Lori David ("David"), by not promoting her to the position filled by Joni Lusher ("Lusher") and found in favor of Caterpillar in all other respects. On May 21, 2001, the jury reached a verdict on damages, awarding compensatory damages in the amount of $100,000.00 and punitive damages in the amount of $750,000.00. After briefing by the parties, the Court then awarded David back pay in the amount of $35,606.71 plus prejudgment interest calculated at the prime rate.

Caterpillar has now filed a Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, Alternatively, for a New Trial. The matter is now fully briefed, and this Order follows.

DISCUSSION

I. Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Rule 50 permits a court to grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law when "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for [a] party on [an] issue." Tincher v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 118 F.3d 1125, 1129 (7th Cir. 1997), citing Emmel v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co., 95 F.3d 627, 629 (7th Cir. 1996). The Court reviews whether "the evidence represented, combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn therefrom, is sufficient to support the verdict when viewed in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is directed." Mathur v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, 207 F.3d 938, 941 (7th Cir. 2000); Tincher, 118 F.3d at 1129. The Court may "not step in and substitute its view of the contested evidence for the jury's"; if a rational jury could have found for the plaintiff, the jury's verdict must be upheld. Mathur, 207 F.3d at 941; Tincher, 118 F.3d at 1129; Emmel, 95 F.3d at 629. Courts are to "apply this standard stringently in discrimination cases, where witness credibility is often crucial." Williams v. Pharmacia, Inc., 137 F.3d 944, 948 (7th Cir. 1998); see also Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 335 (7th Cir. 1998).

A. Liability

Caterpillar argues that the testimony of Ron Dieckow ("Dieckow") should not have been admitted at trial. Dieckow, who was a security officer at another plant, testified that following Lusher's promotion to security sergeant, he asked Larry Mitzelfelt, the captain of the Mossville security force, how Lusher got the job and was told that Mitzelfelt "had been told by upper management that the next promotion in the department would have to be a female in response to a lawsuit that was recently filed in East Peoria by another female security officer." Shortly thereafter, Mitzelfelt told him "that they had looked at every female employee in our department as a candidate for sergeant" and "even considered his secretary, Sandy Daniels, as a possible candidate for the sergeant's job." Caterpillar suggests that Dieckow's testimony provided the only evidence of retaliation with respect to the Lusher promotion.

Caterpillar complains that although the nature of Dieckow's testimony was known to David's counsel since some time in 1999, when he consulted her about possibly filing his own employment suit against Caterpillar, David failed to timely disclose Dieckow or the substance of his testimony. In fact, Caterpillar contends that Dieckow was never even mentioned as a possible witness until David filed her witness list with the final pretrial order.*fn1 On April 2, 2001, Caterpillar filed a Motion in Limine seeking to exclude any testimony by Dieckow as a result of improper disclosure. During a hearing on May 4, 2001, Caterpillar argues that it learned for the first time that Dieckow had information concerning comments that were purportedly made to him by Mitzelfelt about David.

On May 10, 2001, Caterpillar's counsel met with Dieckow to find out what facts he knew which might be relevant to the David case. During this interview, Dieckow stated that Mitzelfelt had told him that "Caterpillar had to make a woman a security sergeant because another female fire and security officer filed a lawsuit."

Dieckow's testimony was ultimately allowed over objection. Caterpillar argues that the untimely disclosure of Dieckow and the nature of his testimony was prejudicial as it deprived Caterpillar of the opportunity to depose him or investigate the matter by talking to other security captains at the meeting in which Lusher's promotion was discussed or talking to Dieckow's coworkers or discussing David's claims with Mitzelfelt. Without his testimony, Caterpillar contends that there is not enough evidence of retaliation to sustain the jury's verdict.

While the Court agrees that David's counsel was less than forthcoming with respect to the particular aspect of Dieckow's testimony at issue here and could have handled the situation differently, Dieckow was listed as a potential witness nearly a year and a half prior to trial, yet Caterpillar did not attempt to interview him and waited until approximately a month prior to trial to file its motion in limine seeking to exclude any testimony. During this lengthy lapse in the proceedings, there was nothing preventing Caterpillar from interviewing Dieckow and learning what information he possessed, just as it did during the week before trial. Furthermore, although Caterpillar claims that it was unable to defend against Dieckow's testimony, it introduced evidence that directly rebutted Dieckow's testimony when it called Mitzelfelt to testify that he had had no such conversation with Dieckow.*fn2 Caterpillar did not request a continuance so that it could obtain additional information in an effort to rebut Dieckow's testimony, and there has been no showing of bad faith on the part of David's counsel. Thus, the Court concludes that the exclusion of Dieckow's testimony was not required and that the admission of such testimony was not error.

However, even assuming that the admission of Dieckow's testimony was erroneous, Caterpillar would still not be entitled to judgment as a matter of law as the record reveals a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found as it did. Contrary to Caterpillar's bald assertion, Dieckow's ...


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