United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division
ORDER REDUCING THE AWARD FOR LOST WAGES, OTHERWISE
DENYING THE MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR NEW
TRIAL, AND ORDERING REINSTATEMENT
L. HINKLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
found that the defendant state agency suspended and then
fired the plaintiff because of his race. The defendant has
moved for judgment as a matter of law, for a new trial, or to
remit the award of lost wages. This order remits the award of
lost wages to account for the plaintiff's earnings from
other employment after the firing. The order denies the
remainder of the motion. The order requires the defendant to
reinstate the plaintiff on equitable conditions.
motion for judgment as a matter of law, disputes in the
evidence must be resolved, and all reasonable inferences must
be drawn, in favor of the nonmoving party. The motion must be
denied if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party. See, e.g., Commodores
Entm't Corp. v. McClary, 879 F.3d 1114, 1130 (11th
Cir. 2017). On a motion for a new trial, in contrast, the
court may consider the weight of the evidence. But new trials
are disfavored; a court should grant a new trial only if
“the verdict is against the clear weight of the
evidence or will result in a miscarriage of justice.”
McGinnis v. Am. Home Mortg. Servicing, Inc., 817
F.3d 1241, 1254 (11th Cir. 2016).
plaintiff James Dawson climbed the ranks in the Florida
Department of Transportation through a 25-year career. He
became a “white-shirt supervisor” in a regional
office, responsible for a crew that repaired roads and
provided attendant services. He was, by all accounts, good at
his job, or at least knowledgeable about road repair and
about how to perform the tasks entrusted to his crew.
problems arose. First, there was racial antagonism in the
regional office. Second, there was a lack of civility and
cooperation in the office, especially between Mr.
Dawson's crew and at least one other crew, perhaps
related to the racial antagonism, perhaps not. Different
combinations of managers suspended and, about a week later,
terminated Mr. Dawson, giving different explanations.
Department says the termination was a response to the lack of
civility and cooperation in the office. But only Mr. Dawson
was terminated; the manager of the other crew was not. Mr.
Dawson says the reason for the different treatment was race:
Mr. Dawson is African American; the other manager is white.
The Department says the treatment had nothing to do with
race-that Mr. Dawson was terminated because he was the cause
of the problem.
sorting this out, the jury was entitled to consider other
circumstances. Mr. Dawson suffered curious treatment-perhaps
just the result of poor management, but perhaps caused by
racial bias. Thus, for example, he arranged to acquire
concrete that was needed to repair an on-ramp to an
interstate highway before it collapsed. He did this while the
region's warehouse supervisor-the person who ordinarily
did the ordering-was unavailable. The concrete was needed;
Mr. Dawson acquired it from the same vendor at the same price
as the warehouse supervisor would have done had she been
available; and Mr. Dawson had routinely followed this same
procedure on other occasions without objection. But this time
Mr. Dawson was treated as a villain. This occurred shortly
before Mr. Dawson's suspension and termination.
solicited statements from employees criticizing Mr.
Dawson's performance. But some African American employees
were not asked for a statement. Testimony about the manner in
which the statements were solicited was plainly false in some
respects-false in sufficient respects to create a
“suspicion of mendacity.” St. Mary's
Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993).
Management used the statements as the primary basis for Mr.
jury answered interrogatories explicitly finding that race
was a motivating factor in Mr. Dawson's suspension and
termination and that he would not have been suspended or
terminated if race had not been considered. The evidence of
this was less than overwhelming; the jury could also have
found that Mr. Dawson was suspended and terminated for the
legitimate reasons the Department proffered. This was, in
short, a jury question. The Department is not entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.
was not a perfect trial-few are. But it was a fair trial.
There is no reason to believe a new trial would produce a
Department complains of evidentiary rulings, but the rulings
were correct-the same rulings would be made again in a new
trial. The Department also complains of an ambiguous and
fleeting remark in Mr. Dawson's attorney's closing
argument. The attorney said the jury would not be asked to
decide whether Mr. Dawson should get his job
back-“that's not part of this process.” The
Department made no contemporaneous objection. This remark was
an inconsequential part of the trial; it did not affect the
the issues were close, and the losing side is dissatisfied,
as the losing side usually is. As a matter of ...