The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge
Before the Court are plaintiff's motion for new trial and petition for attorney's fees, to which the defendant has filed responses.
In this case, plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that he was constructively discharged in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act in that the defendant diminished his job duties and created such a hostile work environment upon plaintiff's return from his FMLA leave that he was forced to resign. After a three-day trial, the jury found in favor of the defendant and against the plaintiff on the single count of constructive discharge. Prior to trial, the Court granted plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment with respect to his claim that the defendant violated plaintiff's rights under the FMLA by requiring a fit-for-duty examination by a company-recommended psychiatrist prior to allowing plaintiff to return to work when plaintiff had been found fit to return to work by his own doctor. Rather than returning to work on March 10, 2003, plaintiff was not allowed to return to work until April 28, 2003. Plaintiff has now filed a motion for new trial, and takes issue with certain of the Court's evidentiary rulings during trial.
Specifically, plaintiff takes issue with the Court's rulings that barred plaintiff from informing the jury that the Court granted plaintiff summary judgment on his claim that defendant violated the FMLA by failing to reinstate him to work March 10, 2003 through April 28, 2003, and barred all evidence that would establish that plaintiff was unlawfully prevented from returning to work on March 10, 2003. The Court found that such evidence, namely, that defendant had been found to have committed an FMLA violation, would unfairly prejudice the jury against the defendant with respect to the plaintiff's remaining claims, and overruled the plaintiff's objections on this issue.
"Under Rule 59(a), the district court must determine whether the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive or insufficient, or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party." Briggs v. Marshall, 93 F.3d 355, 360 (7th Cir. 1996) (cite omitted).
Here, plaintiff claims that the Court's evidentiary rulings were substantially harmful and prejudicial to plaintiff, and interfered with his right to a fair trial in that he was consequently unable to show: (1) that defendant's unlawful barring of plaintiff constituted a continuing violation of the FMLA so as to impute FMLA protection to plaintiff during the period from March 10 to April 28, 2003; (2) that plaintiff was statutorily entitled to be reinstated on April 28, 2003, to the same or equivalent position that he held on January 8, 2003 (the day on which he commenced FMLA leave); and (3) that plaintiff's diminution in job duties that occurred during his unlawful bar from work were a direct result of defendant's FMLA violation.
To succeed on his claim for constructive discharge, plaintiff was required to prove that:
(1) his working conditions were made so intolerable that a reasonable person in plaintiff's position would be forced to resign; and (2) that the intolerable working conditions occurred as a result of plaintiff taking FMLA leave.
Plaintiff claims that the Court's rulings caused plaintiff to be unable to prove the second element; specifically, plaintiff claims that he "was unable to show that diminished job duties, which constituted his intolerable working conditions, were not just causally [sic] related to his FMLA leave, but intrinsically related to his FMLA leave since they constituted FMLA violations." (Doc. 72, p. 5). Plaintiff claims that the effect of the Court's rulings was to leave unexplained the March 10 to April 28, 2003 time period, in that plaintiff was only allowed to establish that he attempted to return to work March 10th but did not actually return to work until April 28th; and that absent evidence that defendant unlawfully barred plaintiff from work during that time, plaintiff's claim was destined to fail no matter whether the jury concluded that plaintiff returned from FMLA leave on March 10th or April 28th. Specifically, plaintiff argues:
If the jury concluded that Plaintiff returned from FMLA leave on April 28, 2003, Plaintiff's claim would fail since, under the Court's evidentiary rulings, the admitted evidence could not show he was entitled to FMLA protection on that day. April 28, 2003 was 16 weeks post January 8, 2003, well outside statutory protection. It was obvious the jury was considering this statutory limit since they specifically asked during trial how many weeks were allowed under the FMLA and whether the Defendant had FMLA posters displayed at his work advising Plaintiff of his rights. The jury knew, either through their own experiences expressed during voir dire, through jury instruction, or through the questions the jury posed at trial, that the FMLA provided only 12 weeks of protected leave. The jury also knew that only an FMLA protected employee is entitled to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position upon returning to work. Absent the material fact that he was unlawfully barred from work until April 28, 2003, the jury could not have found that Plaintiff was entitled to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position and thus could not have found that his intolerable working conditions were causally related to his FMLA leave.
If the jury concluded that Plaintiff FMLA leave ended on March 10, 2003, Plaintiff's claim would fair no better. April 28, 2003 was 1 1/2 months after Plaintiff's FMLA leave. Under the Court's evidentiary rulings, the evi- dence would still not show he was entitled to FMLA protection on April 28, 2003. Again, absent evidence of Defendant's unlawful barring of Plaintiff from work, the jury could not have found that Plaintiff was entitled to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position and thus could not have found that his intolerable working conditions were causally related to his FMLA leave. (Doc. 7, p. 6). The Court disagrees. Here, the jury was made aware that plaintiff attempted to return to work on March 10, 2003, and was instructed by defendant that he was not permitted to return from leave at that time, and that, ultimately, he was cleared to return and did in fact return to work on April 28, 2003. There was no dispute before the jury as to whether plaintiff was returning from FMLA leave on April 28, 2003 or whether he was entitled to return to the same or an equivalent position; the issue before the jury was whether the defendant failed to reinstate plaintiff to the same or an equivalent position at the time he returned to work, and whether, upon plaintiff's return to work and as a result of him taking FMLA leave, defendant created such an intolerable working environment that plaintiff had no choice but to resign. The jury was instructed as follows:
Plaintiff claims that beginning April 28, 2003, Defendant violated his FMLA rights by failing to reinstate him to his same or equivalent employment position that he held on January 8, 2003, the date he commenced his FMLA leave.
Plaintiff also claims that in violating the FMLA, Defendant created an intolerable working environment, thereby causing him to resign his employment ...