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Greene v. Potter

March 5, 2009

MARY ALICE GREENE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JOHNE. POTTER, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 4:04-cv-04220-GPM-G. Patrick Murphy, Judge.

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

ARGUED OCTOBER 28, 2008

Before BAUER, RIPPLE and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

Mary Alice Greene sued John E. Potter as Postmaster General of the United States (the post office), claiming that she was denied overtime opportunities because of her gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After Greene and one of her witnesses testified at trial, but before Greene finished her case-in-chief, the district court granted the post office's motion for judgment as a matter of law and later denied Greene's motion to reconsider the judgment and grant a new trial. Greene appeals both rulings and we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Greene worked as a mail processing clerk for the post office in Carbondale, Illinois. Postal employees worked five days each week and the post office allowed an employee to volunteer for overtime on the days when she was not regularly scheduled to work. Each quarter, the post office generated a list of employees seeking overtime by day and shift. Employees who chose to work overtime were required to sign up for the overtime-desired list for both of their non-scheduled days. As negotiated by the union, the overtime schedule was supposed to rotate according to the seniority of those employees eligible to work on a given day. However, management was not required to schedule an employee for more than one overtime shift in a week, even if it happened to be that employee's turn in the rotation on both of her non-scheduled days. If an employee was already scheduled to work overtime later in the week, she could be passed over for an earlier overtime shift, even if she was otherwise entitled to it. The postal week began on Saturday.

Greene signed up to work on both of her non-scheduled days, which were originally Sundays and Mondays and later changed to Sundays and Fridays. The Sunday over-time shift was more convenient for Greene because she was caring for her mother and sister, and it was easier for other family members to help with the care-taking on a Sunday compared to a Monday or Friday. Greene claims to have expressed this preference for Sunday overtime and the reason for it to her supervisor, Dan Rendleman, who was in charge of assigning overtime shifts. Greene was offered overtime on five Sundays and seventeen Mondays or Fridays during the approximately two-year time period at issue.

After navigating the required EEOC procedures, Greene sued the post office for gender discrimination, claiming that she was denied her share of Sunday overtime shifts because she is a woman, either by way of intentional discrimination or disparate impact because Rendleman favored his male friends to the detriment of female employees when scheduling the more desirable Sunday overtime shift. The district court denied the post office's motion for summary judgment and the case went to trial. Greene and one other witness had testified and Greene intended to call three more witnesses when the district court granted the post office's Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law. The district court found that Greene had not, and the testimony from her other witnesses could not, establish sufficient evidence of gender discrimination. The court later denied Greene's Rule 59 motion to reconsider and amend the judgment and grant a new trial.

II. DISCUSSION

On appeal, Greene argues that the district court acted prematurely when it entered judgment as a matter of law without allowing Greene to finish her case-in-chief. Greene contends that her remaining witnesses would have presented sufficient evidence for the jury to find in her favor. Green concludes that because the district court improperly cut off her case, it should have granted her motion to reconsider the judgment and grant a new trial. The post office claims that the district court acted appropriately by granting judgment as a matter of law when it became apparent that Greene could not present sufficient evidence for a jury to rule in her favor. Accordingly, the post office argues that the district court properly denied Greene's motion for a new trial.

We review the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law de novo and its denial of Greene's motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Castallano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 373 F.3d 817, 819 (7th Cir. 2004); Huff v. Sheahan, 493 F.3d 893, 899 (7th Cir. 2007).

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

Greene first argues that it was procedurally improper for the district court to grant the post office's motion for judgment as a matter of law before Greene had finished her case-in-chief. The post office contends that the court acted appropriately because Rule 50 allows a court to enter judgment as a matter of law as soon as it becomes apparent that a plaintiff cannot establish an essential element of her claim. Rule 50 provides that

[i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find ...


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