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Geraty v. Village of Antioch

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

January 8, 2015

DAWN GERATY, Plaintiff,


JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

The Village of Antioch's motion to reconsider the court's November 7, 2014 order is denied. The remaining portion of the Village's motion to alter or amend the judgment, which seeks to reduce plaintiff Dawn Geraty's compensatory damages based on Title VII's damages cap, is granted to the extent that Geraty's damages are capped but denied to the extent that the Village contends that a cap of $100, 000 is applicable as the court finds that Geraty's compensatory damages are properly capped at $200, 000.


A. Legal Standard

The court has the inherent authority to reconsider its interlocutory orders because such orders "may be revised at any time before the entry of judgment adjudicating all the claims." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b); see also Galvan v. Norberg, 678 F.3d 581, 587 (7th Cir. 2012) ("Rule 54(b) provides that non-final orders may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities"). A motion to reconsider an interlocutory order serves a limited purpose in federal litigation; it is not a vehicle to rehash an argument the court has already rejected or to present legal arguments that were not presented earlier. Schilke v. Wachovia Mortg., FSB, 758 F.Supp.2d 549, 554 (N.D. Ill. 2010). Rather, a motion to reconsider allows a party to direct the court's attention to manifest errors of fact or law, a significant change in the law or facts, the court's misunderstanding of a party's argument, or party's contention that the court ruled on an issue that was not properly before it. See United States v. Ligas, 549 F.3d 497, 501 (7th Cir. 2008).

B. Background

For the purposes of this order, familiarity with the court's prior orders is assumed. In a nutshell, a jury found that the Village discriminated against Geraty, a police officer in the Village, on the basis of her gender by failing to promote her to the position of sergeant and by failing to transfer her to the position of detective. The jury awarded Geraty $250, 000 in compensatory damages. On May 2, 2014, the clerk entered judgment in favor of Geraty and against the Village in the amount of $329, 454.16, which included $61, 186.72 in backpay and $18, 267.44 in prejudgment interest. The judgment is still not final because a single issue remains: which Title VII damages cap is applicable. If the Village had 200 or fewer employees during the relevant time period, Geraty's compensatory damages are capped at $100, 000, but if the Village had 201 or more employees, a $200, 000 cap applies.

Over a year after this employment discrimination case was tried in November 2013, the court once again considers the Title VII damages cap issue. The court first considered this issue in its November 7, 2014 order addressing the Village's motion to alter or amend the judgment. That motion turned on whether volunteer firefighters in 2006 and 2007 count as employees for the purposes of Title VII. In its original submissions about the number of employees, the Village contended, based on its payroll records, that during 2006 and 2007, it employed between 169 and 173 individuals on a non-volunteer basis, including 27 volunteer firefighters.[1] Geraty asserted that in 2006 and 2007, the Village had at least 80 volunteer firefighters (including the 27 paid volunteers).

In its November 7, 2014 order, the court rejected the Village's reliance on compensation, as reflected in its payroll records, to establish that volunteer firefighters are not employees. Specifically, the court found that an individual's status as an employee did not turn on whether she received paychecks that were memorialized in payroll records. The court also observed that based on the Village's position about payroll records, the Village had refused to provide Geraty with information about any non-monetary benefits given to volunteer firefighters. The court then concluded that Village's reliance on payroll records to support its claim that volunteer firefighters are not employees was insufficient to carry the Village's burden of showing that the volunteer firefighters in 2006 and 2007 were not employees.

This did not resolve the damages cap issue, however, as the Village had a fall-back argument: even if the cadre of 80-plus volunteer firefighters consists of employees, Geraty had not shown that the volunteers worked at least 20 calendar weeks in both 2006 and 2007. The court held that the Village had the burden of proof on this issue and directed the parties to attempt to reach agreement. That effort proved fruitless so a series of briefs with supporting materials followed, which are now before the court.

C. The Village's Arguments

The Village first contends that the court's November 7, 2014 order was based on a misapprehension of fact. According to the Village, the record showed that the volunteer firefighters received no benefits of any type other than monetary compensation (reflected in payroll records) each time they responded to a call for firefighting assistance. In support, the Village directs the court's attention to the September 17, 2014 declaration of Joy McCarthy. (Dkt. 277-1.) In that declaration, McCarthy states that:

Volunteer firefighters were reflected on the payroll journals as "Volunteer Fire." They did not work a regular schedule, but instead were on a roster of potential people who could be called should the fire safety employees needs assistance in responding to a call. They received no Village of Antioch benefits. The volunteer firefighters were paid, if in fact they assisted in the response to a call. In that regard, they would be paid on the regular payroll covering the pay period in which they did the work. Said volunteer firefighters were also paid for any time they spent in regard to training, meetings, etc. In this regard, they would receive said payment on the payroll date following the pay period in which they performed the work, training, attendance at a meeting, etc. If they performed no work, training, meeting attendance etc., then they would not receive a check and would not be on the payroll.

( Id. at ΒΆ 8) (emphasis added.)

Given the context in which this statement was presented (that an individual's status as an employee exclusively turns on payroll records), the court previously believed that McCarthy was expressing that the volunteer firefighters did not receive monetary benefits other than the salary paid for each response for assistance. Under this interpretation, the volunteer firefighters still could have received non-salary benefits, such as workers' compensation or survivor's benefits.[2] However, today the Village argues that this statement meant that the volunteers received no benefits whatsoever other than a monetary payment for each response to a fire.

This is revisionist history. Prior to the motion to reconsider, the Village's position was clear and consistent - the "payroll method" ( i.e., payroll records showing that an individual received monetary compensation) determines if an individual is an employee so it need only produce payroll records. Based on this position, the Village argued that remuneration, as shown in payroll records, was the only relevant consideration. The Village did not respond to discovery about non-salary benefits provided to volunteer firefighters because, in its view, the payroll records were dispositive. Thus, the parties extensively briefed whether the so-called "payroll" method was the correct way to determine if an individual was an employee. The court ruled against the Village and moved on to its fall-back argument about the number of hours worked by volunteer firefighters per year, which remains pending.

A motion for reconsideration is not the proper time to raise a new argument. See Oto v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2000) (motions for reconsideration are not a vehicle by which a party may reframe arguments it previously presented to the court). The court's prior orders about the damages cap issue were "not intended as mere first drafts, subject to revision and reconsideration at a litigant's pleasure." Quaker Alloy Casting Co. v. Gulfco. Indus., Inc., 123 F.R.D. 282, 288 (N.D. Ill.1988). Having lost on its "payroll method" argument, the Village cannot start anew based on its current emphasis on a single sentence in a declaration that Geraty cannot challenge due to this case's procedural posture.

The Village is also not entitled to an evidentiary hearing based on the sentence in McCarthy's declaration regarding non-salary compensation, just as it was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the number-of-employees issue. With respect to McCarthy, as discussed above, the Village is not entitled to a do-over regarding non-monetary compensation. In any event, Geraty would have ...

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