The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the court on defendant' s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), or for a new trial, Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED. In light of that, the court proceeds to determine the amount of back pay due to Hicks and any other appropriate remedies, as discussed below.
The facts are more fully set forth in this court' s opinion denying summary judgment, so a brief summary suffices. Plaintiff Hicks is African American. He worked for the Forest Preserve as a maintenance mechanic for two years, and during that time, he consistently complained that his supervisor, Thomas Thompson, discriminated against him by, among other things, giving him only old clunkers to repair and then disciplining him for taking too long. When a co-worker, Gronimo Hernandez, filed a complaint against Thompson alleging that he discriminated against Hispanics and African Americans, Hicks participated in the resulting investigation. Later, Hicks was demoted to a "serviceman II" position, an unskilled position performing landscaping work that paid about $9 per hour less than his old position. He contended that he was demoted because he participated in the investigation and because of his race. The District responded that Hicks's union representative had asked if "anything could be done" for him short of termination, and the result was a meeting in which management told Hicks that his performance-based largely on Thompson's reports-was unsatisfactory. Management offered him a choice of taking the serviceman II position and having his most recent disciplinary reports erased, or refusing the offer and challenging the reports, in which case the District would pursue sanctions up to termination. Hicks accepted the demotion.
The intermediate supervisor between Hicks and Thompson, Joseph Hruska, testified that Thompson, along with two other upper-level employees, told him that Hicks and Gonzalez needed to be fired because they had filed charges of discrimination against Thompson. Per their instructions, Hruska put together disciplinary reports against Hicks that he believed to be false. Hruska himself thought Hicks' s work satisfactory and timely.
At the close of the plaintiff's case, defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on the retaliation claim, and this court denied the motion. The jury agreed with Hicks that the demotion was retaliatory and awarded him $30,000. Now defendant renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law.
I. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
Once the jury has rendered a verdict, the court construes all facts in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Wallace v. McGlothan, 606 F.3d 410, 418 (7th Cir. 2010). Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only if there is "no legally sufficient evidentiary basis" for a rational jury to find for the plaintiff. Hendrickson v. Cooper, 589 F.3d 887, 889 (7th Cir. 2009); Wallace, 606 F.3d at 418; Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. A post trial motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) can be granted only on the ground advanced in a pre-trial motion under Rule 50(a). Wallace v. McGlothan, 606 F.3d 410, 418 (7th Cir. 2010).
Similarly, a new trial is appropriate only when "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence." Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care, 610 F.3d 434, 440 (7th Cir. 2010); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. On either motion, the court does not re-weigh evidence or make credibility determinations. Pickett, 610 F.3d at 440; Tate v. Exec. Mgmt. Servs., 546 F.3d 528, 532 (7th Cir. 2008). This means that when there is testimony that favors both sides, the jury is entitled to disbelieve the defendant' s witnesses and find for the plaintiff. Pickett, 610 F.3d at 440.
The District first renews its argument, rejected at the summary judgment stage, that Hicks suffered no adverse employment action. The District contends that Hicks voluntarily accepted the serviceman II position and thus was not demoted. In its motion the District devotes only three sentences to this argument and does not explain what, if any, evidence surfaced only at trial that should change the court' s analysis on this matter. In light of that, the court sees no reason to disturb the jury's verdict. The District also argues that none of the other actions the District took would constitute an adverse employment action, but that is immaterial because the jury was entitled to find that the demotion was an adverse employment action.
The District next renews its argument, also rejected at summary judgment, that Hicks did not produce enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find causation or pretext; that is, to find that Hicks was demoted because he participated in the investigation. The District argues that Thompson did not have any input in the decision to demote Hicks, and that the "cat' s paw" theory does not apply to impute Thompson' s motive to the actual decisionmakers. The jury disagreed, and there was enough evidence for them to do so. Hruska testified that Thompson told him they needed to get rid of Hicks because he had participated in the investigation, and the jury could have concluded that Thompson's negative reports about Hicks led to his demotion. Perhaps the jury also would have had enough evidence to find for the defendant, but this court cannot second-guess the jury's weighing of the evidence and their credibility determinations.
Defendant also renews its objection to the jury instruction regarding retaliation. Defendant contends that the instruction inadequately states Seventh Circuit law because it does not identify the specific adverse employment action, and thus makes it impossible to determine the basis for the jury's verdict. However, defendant does not identify any Seventh ...