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LEWIS v. AMERICAN FOREIGN SERV. ASSN.

April 12, 1993

TURNA R. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN FOREIGN SERVICE ASSOCIATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES R. RICHEY

 I. INTRODUCTION

 The Plaintiff, Turna Lewis, brings this action against her employer, American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), claiming the Defendant retaliated against her for filing a civil rights complaint, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The case was tried before a jury on March 3-5, 1993.

 The Court now has before it cross-motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend the Jury Verdict pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Defendant's Motion for Denial of Equitable Relief based upon the jury verdict. The Defendant moved for Judgment as a Matter of Law at the close of the Plaintiff's case-in-chief, after the close of all evidence, and again after the verdict was returned. The Plaintiff filed its Motion to Alter or Amend the jury verdict on March 22, 1993, claiming that the verdict form stated the incorrect standard of proof. The Plaintiff asks the Court to apply a different standard of proof and enter Judgment as a Matter of Law for the Plaintiff. For the reasons stated herein, the Court shall deny both Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law, the Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend the jury verdict, and the Defendant's Motion to Deny Equitable Relief.

 II. BACKGROUND

 The Plaintiff was General Counsel for AFSA from April 1990 to April 1992. Her duties as General Counsel included advising AFSA on all legal matters and representing foreign service employees in grievance procedures. In July 1991, Lewis filed a race discrimination claim against AFSA with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights. *fn1" She claims that the Defendant harassed her and terminated her employment because she filed the claim. The Defendant presented evidence at trial, to which the Plaintiff admitted, that the Plaintiff took confidential documents regarding individual cases and employee salaries to her home and supplied them to the D.C. Office of Human Rights, in support of her claim, without permission or subpoena. When AFSA learned of this, its board asked the Plaintiff to sign a letter admitting she had taken the documents wrongfully and promising that it would not happen again. The Plaintiff refused to sign the letter, and the AFSA board then terminated her.

 The jury found that the Plaintiff did suffer retaliation as a result of her filing the discrimination claim. However, they also found that the Defendant would have terminated the Plaintiff regardless of the motive to retaliate and did not award damages to the Plaintiff.

 III. THE DEFENDANT IS NOT ENTITLED TO A JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, BECAUSE A REASONABLE JURY COULD HAVE FOUND THAT THE DEFENDANT RETALIATED AGAINST THE PLAINTIFF IN VIOLATION OF 42 U.S.C. § 1981

 The Defendant argues that it is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because the Plaintiff failed to present at trial sufficient evidence to prove unlawful retaliation. *fn2" A judgment as a matter of law should be granted only if the evidence, together with all the inferences that can be drawn reasonably therefrom, is so one-sided that reasonable men and women could not disagree with the verdict. Coburn v. Pan American World Airways, Inc., 229 U.S. App. D.C. 61, 711 F.2d 339 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Contrary to the Defendant's assertions, the Plaintiff did offer testimony and exhibits sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the Plaintiff suffered negative treatment as a direct result of filing her claim with the EEOC.

 The Defendant argues alternatively that the Plaintiff did not provide any evidence to indicate that the Defendant's legitimate reasons for terminating her employment were pretextual. The Defendant has cited ample authority that supports an employer's right to terminate employees whose behavior was unlawful or disloyal. See Pendleton v. Rumsfeld, 202 U.S. App. D.C. 102, 628 F.2d 102 (D.C. Cir. 1980); Jefferies v. Harris City Community Action Ass'n, 615 F.2d 1025, 1036 (5th Cir. 1980). The Court agrees with the Defendant that the taking and revealing by an attorney of a client's confidential documents is completely reprehensible, a violation of professional ethics, and a legitimate reason to terminate that attorney. Nevertheless, the jury found that this legitimate reason was not the sole motive for the Defendant's actions. The parties agree that this case is a "mixed motive" discrimination action. See Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 104 L. Ed. 2d 268, 109 S. Ct. 1775 (1989); National Labor Relations Board v. Transportation Management Corp., 462 U.S. 393, 76 L. Ed. 2d 667, 103 S. Ct. 2469 (1983). In mixed motive cases, even if a defendant proves that it would have taken the same action for legitimate reasons, a plaintiff may be entitled to some equitable relief if the jury finds that unlawful discrimination was a motivating factor. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e5(g)(2)(B). *fn3" As stated above, the jury found that the Defendant was motivated in part by unlawful discrimination, so the Defendant is not entitled to a Judgment as a Matter of Law.

 IV. BECAUSE THE PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTION TO THE JURY INSTRUCTION IS UNTIMELY AND THE JURY WAS INSTRUCTED AS TO THE CORRECT STANDARD OF PROOF, THE COURT MUST DENY THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM THE JURY VERDICT AND THE NOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

 The Plaintiff asks the Court for relief from the jury verdict, pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, claiming that the agreed-upon jury instructions stated incorrectly the standard of proof borne by the Defendant. *fn4" Moreover, the Plaintiff asks that the Court consider all the evidence in light of her proposed standard of proof and enter judgment for the Plaintiff as a Matter of Law.


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