The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge
Wednesday, 26 January, 2011 03:11:20 PM
Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD
In March 2009, Plaintiff Lawrence C. Barbee field a Complaint (#1) against his employer, Defendant Christy-Foltz, Inc. Plaintiff brought suit under Title VII seeking damages for harassment based on race and for retaliation. In October 2010, after a four-day trial, a jury found Defendant liable for harassment, but not for retaliation. The jury awarded Plaintiff compensatory damages in the sum of $10,000, and punitive damages in the sum of $12,500.
During the trial, Defendant filed a Trial Brief (#52) seeking judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), which this Court denied. Defendant now brings Defendant's Post Trial Renewal of Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (#67), seeking judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b). Defendant has also filed Defendant's Brief In Support of Post Trial Renewal of Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (#68), and Plaintiff has filed Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Post Trial Renewal of Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (#70). After reviewing the parties' memoranda and recalling the evidence and argument presented at trial, this Court DENIES Defendant's Post Trial Renewal of Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (#67).
The following facts are taken from the evidence presented at trial, with inferences made in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.
Defendant Christy-Foltz, Inc. is a closely held family corporation located in Decatur, Illinois. Christy-Foltz, Inc. created and owns another business entity known as Grohne Concrete Products (hereinafter "Grohne"). Plaintiff works at Grohne as a truck driver. The Grohne plant is an industrial site. A small number of employees work full-time on site, and approximately 15 truck drivers stop at the site periodically throughout the day between deliveries. Truck drivers also routinely report to the site in the morning to receive assignments and at the end of the work day to submit paperwork. At the relevant time period, Plaintiff was the only African American truck driver at Grohne.
Plaintiff presented evidence regarding racial harassment at Grohne. In August 2007, Plaintiff's co-worker Gary Roberts called Plaintiff either a "nigger" or "a dumb nigger."*fn1
Shortly after, co-worker Terry Aldrich used the word "nigger" when Plaintiff was not present. Plaintiff complained about Roberts' use of the word "nigger" to a union steward, who then informed Ron Grigg, the plant manager. (#63, pp. 9-10). Grigg asked Roberts to apologize to Plaintiff for calling him a nigger. Roberts attempted to make an apology to Plaintiff, in the presence of co-workers Scott Spitzer and Larry Benton. Roberts felt his comment was made in a joking manner, and he told Plaintiff "I didn't think you was going to take it like that." (#63, p. 11.) During this conversation, Spitzer, referring to use of the word "nigger" asked Plaintiff why "you call each other names and it's alright, but when we do it, it's not alright." (#63, p. 12; #64, p. 159). Benton commented, in reference to music that uses the word "nigger," that he did not allow his children to listen to "that nigger shit, and when they do, I tell them to cut it off." (#63, p. 12). Plaintiff immediately told Grigg that he did not think Roberts' apology was sincere. (#63, p. 12).
Both Roberts and Aldrich each received a five-day suspension from work without pay for using the word "nigger." Plaintiff testified that, after this, co-workers began to treat him differently. They would not speak to him or wave to him at work, where it was not necessary for the job. (#63, p. 14-15). Several of Plaintiff's co-workers testified that they did not speak to Plaintiff, and that they were afraid any statements they made to Plaintiff might be taken out of context. (#64, pp. 74, 157, 162, 196; #65, pp. 11, 28-29). Plaintiff presented evidence that Grigg told at least one employee, Scott Spitzer, to be careful what he said to Plaintiff. (#64, p. 111). Plaintiff wrote a letter to the company about what was happening, and had a meeting with Hal Schinzler, the president of Christy-Foltz, and Grigg. (#63, p. 15). Plaintiff testified that they told him racial harassment would "not be tolerated," but they did not take any further action. (#63, p. 16).
In October 2007, Plaintiff found what he believed to be a noose hanging at the workplace. The noose was tied out of a sash cord. It was hanging on a coat hanger hook in a break room at the Grohne plant. (Pl.'s Ex. 5). Though Defendants presented evidence that this noose had been tied many years before and had been around at the plant for quite some time, no witnesses provided an explanation for how it came to be in the break room where Plaintiff first saw it. (#64, pp. 58, 172). Upon finding the noose, Plaintiff took a photograph of it, and went directly to Grigg. Grigg asked Plaintiff why he thought this noose was directed at him. Plaintiff asked if he could go home for the rest of the day. (#63, pp. 22-23). A few days later, Plaintiff found a second noose at the workplace. This time, the noose consisted of a heavier rope tied in a slipknot. Plaintiff found it hanging on a wall with other ropes in a back room. (Pl.'s Ex. 6). Defendants presented evidence that it had been used long ago as a tool for a project on the work site, and had been there ever since. (#64, p. 182). Rather than going to Grigg with this discovery, Plaintiff first reported this incident to his therapist, who suggested that Plaintiff call the police. (#63, p. 22). Plaintiff did so, and a police officer investigated the Grohne premises; the officer concluded that no crime had been committed and there was no further police involvement. (#65, p. 63).
In response to the incident with Roberts, Grohne posted an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy on a bulletin board in the break room with other work-related notices. (#64, pp. 60-62). Though several employees testified they were aware that the policy was there, many of them had not read it. (#64, p. 200; #65, pp. 26, 91). Plaintiff's counsel emphasized a variety of ways in which the policy as written differed ...