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Millbrook v. IBP

February 20, 2002

GARY MILLBROOK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
IBP, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 98-4121--Michael M. Mihm, Judge.

Before Bauer, Manion, and Evans, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manion, Circuit Judge.

Argued September 20, 2001

Gary Millbrook, a janitor at IBP, Incorporated, sued his employer under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. sec. 1981, alleging that IBP discriminated against him on the basis of his race eight times when it selected other candidates to fill the position of Quality Control Inspector. A jury rejected seven of Millbrook's eight discrimination claims, but concluded that IBP had discriminated against Millbrook on one occasion. The jury awarded Millbrook $7,500 in pain and suffering, $25,000 in lost wages, and $100,000 in punitive damages. The district court also ordered IBP to instate Millbrook as a Quality Control Inspector and awarded him attorney's fees. Both before and after the jury verdict, IBP moved for judgment as a matter of law. The district court denied both motions. IBP appeals. We reverse.

I.

Gary Millbrook began working as a janitor at IBP's Joslin, Illinois plant in November 1995. IBP is in the meat processing business and is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"). According to Millbrook, he accepted the janitorial position because he hoped to advance within IBP to the position of Quality Control Inspector, and eventually obtain a position with the USDA.

Quality Control Inspectors at IBP are in charge of inspecting the processing of carcasses and end-products, and assuring that they meet the standards of the USDA, IBP, and the customer. Quality Control Inspectors are also responsible for completing the paperwork required by the USDA. While the position of Quality Control Inspector is sought after, it is also stressful because in policing the product quality, the inspectors must often confront production supervisors. Accordingly, IBP seeks people with strong communication skills.

IBP employs approximately forty Quality Control Inspectors, with about twenty inspectors working the daytime "A Shift" and the other twenty working the nighttime "B Shift." Shift A inspectors report to Quality Control Supervisor Roger Baylor, and B Shift inspectors report to Audrey Jordan. Both Baylor and Jordan were responsible for interviewing candidates when Quality Control Inspector positions became available. During 1996 and 1997, IBP authorized Baylor and Jordan to make the final hiring decision, with instructions to select the best qualified applicant.

In January 1996, Millbrook applied for the position of Quality Control Inspector. IBP selected another candidate for the position. Between 1996 and 1998, Millbrook applied an additional nine times for the position of Quality Control Inspector, but on each occasion IBP selected another applicant. On November 30, 1998, Millbrook sued IBP for race discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981, alleging that IBP discriminated against him on eight of the ten occasions that he applied for, and was denied, the Quality Control Inspector position; Millbrook admits that on the other two occasions, the other applicants were better qualified.

Millbrook's case was tried before a jury. At trial, Millbrook presented evidence concerning the qualifications of the eight applicants selected over him for the position of Quality Control Inspector. Millbrook argued that he had better qualifications than all of the other applicants, but that IBP chose the other applicants over him because he is black. IBP argued in response that on each occasion that Millbrook applied for the position of Quality Control Inspector, another applicant was better qualified, and that it always selected the best qualified candidate to fill the vacancy.

At the close of evidence, IBP moved for judgment as a matter of law, but the district court denied its motion, sending the case to the jury. On a verdict form with specific interrogatories, the jury rejected seven of Millbrook's eight claims of race discrimination, but concluded that IBP had discriminated against Millbrook on the basis of race when it selected DeWayne Harris over him in June 1997. The jury awarded Millbrook $7,500 in pain and suffering, $25,000 in lost wages, and $100,000 in punitive damages. After the jury verdict was returned, IBP again moved for judgment as a matter of law, but the district court denied that motion as well. Millbrook then moved for attorney's fees, and for a court order directing IBP to instate him as a Quality Control Inspector. The district court granted Millbrook attorney's fees and also ordered IBP to fill the next Quality Control Inspector vacancy with Millbrook.

IBP appeals, arguing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Millbrook failed to present sufficient evidence to support a verdict of race discrimination. Alternatively, IBP argues that Millbrook failed to establish a right to punitive damages. IBP also argues that the district court erred in ordering Millbrook instated as the next Quality Control Inspector.

II.

On appeal, IBP first argues that the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). We review the denial of this motion de novo, examining the record as a whole to determine wheth er the evidence presented, combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn therefrom, was sufficient to support the jury's verdict of race discrimination. Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 335 (7th Cir. 1998). While "[w]e will overturn a jury verdict for the plaintiff only if we conclude that no rational jury could have found for the plaintiff," id., "a mere scintilla of supporting evidence will not suffice." Futrell v. J.I. Case, 38 F.3d 342, 346 (7th Cir. 1994).

Initially, we stress that the only issue on appeal is IBP's selection of Harris over Millbrook in June 1997. While Millbrook applied a total of ten times for the position of Quality Control Inspector, and while he sued alleging race discrimination on eight of those ten occasions, the jury rejected all of Millbrook's claims except for the one based on IBP's selection of Harris. Millbrook does not appeal the jury's verdict in favor of IBP on the other seven counts. Therefore, the sole issue on appeal is whether ...


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