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UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA v. MOORE

September 3, 1998

UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, INTERNATIONAL UNION, APPELLANT,
V.
JEAN L. (MARAT) MOORE, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, RUFUS G. KING, III, J. [717 A2d Page 333]

Before Terry, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge:

[717 A2d Page 334]

Appellant, United Mine Workers of America, International Union ("UMWA"), appeals from a judgment entered against it in a sex (gender) discrimination case brought by appellee Jean L. (Marat) Moore. *fn1 Ms. Moore alleged sex discrimination under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C.Code §§ 1-2501 et seq. (1992). The jury awarded her $300,000 in compensatory damages (including damages for future lost earnings and emotional distress), and $150,000 in punitive damages. The trial court denied UMWA's post-judgment motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial or remittitur. We affirm the trial court's denial of judgment as a matter of law or new trial as to liability and compensatory damages; however, finding insufficient evidence to support an award of punitive damages, we reverse the trial court's judgment as to punitive damages as a matter of law.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

Testimony introduced during Ms. Moore's jury trial revealed her employment history with the UMWA and the events leading to her termination. In October 1983, UMWA hired Ms. Moore as a staff writer and photographer for the United Mine Workers ("UMW") Journal, at an initial salary of $26,000. At the time, she held a B.A. degree in English from Duke University, *fn2 magna cum laude, and had worked as a coal miner for UMWA Local 8840 in 1979-80 in Mingo County, West Virginia. In addition to her work as a staff writer and photographer, focusing on safety investigations in mines, she was active in the Coal Employment Project ("CEP"), an organization devoted to the interests of female coal miners. *fn2 She received awards for her writing and photography.

Ms. Moore was promoted to the position of program coordinator in the UMWA Organizing Department in 1989, at a salary of $40,500. In that capacity, she became a field organizer and spent most of her time in Southwest Virginia. Approximately one year later, she left UMWA to do freelance writing, and to complete a book on the history of female coal miners in the United States. In July 1992, UMWA asked her to return to the Communications Department, as an associate editor of the UMW Journal, at the salary of $40,500. She joined the editor, Greg Hawthorne, and another associate editor, Tom Johnson. Later, Tim Baker became a staff writer for the UMW Journal. Ms. Moore continued her association with the CEP, and was elected to its board of directors in 1993. [717 A2d Page 335]

CEP's June 1994 conference was scheduled to be held in Evansville, Indiana. Ms. Moore played no role in the organization of the conference, or the selection of a hotel for the conference events. However, sometime around October 1993, she advised an assistant to the vice president of UMWA, Brad Burton, that the conference would be held at the Executive Inn. The Executive Inn was owned by Robert Green, who also had an ownership interest in nonunion mines through the Green Coal Company. Mr. Burton became upset and explained that Mr. Green owned nonunion mines, and that he, Mr. Burton, had tried to organize workers at the Green Coal Company around 1978. CEP made efforts to obtain other accommodations in Evansville, but discovered that no other suitable hotel was available in that city. When CEP broached the matter later with the Executive Inn, its advisory committee was informed that after Robert Green's death, his son had sold the family coal mining operations in April 1993. Ms. Moore provided these details to Mr. Burton in a January 10, 1994 memorandum, and asked for "suggestions about any other possible locations." *fn3 Eventually, the conference site was switched to St. Louis, Missouri.

One of the witnesses at Ms. Moore's trial concerning her termination was Greg Hawthorne, a staff writer and photographer for the UMW Journal in 1983, managing editor in 1985, director of publications and editor in 1990, and head of the Department of Communications from 1991 to 1994, when he transferred to the legal department after obtaining his law degree. According to him, Mr. Burton called him into a meeting in January 1994 in which Mr. Robert Stropp, then UMWA General Counsel, participated. Mr. Burton told Mr. Hawthorne to "start looking for more staff, because he was going to fire [Ms. Moore] and Tom Johnson both." He questioned "their loyalty and their judgment." Mr. Hawthorne said he did not want to fire either Ms. Moore or Mr. Johnson because he "was happy with the work they did for [him]." Mr. Burton also advised Richard Trumka, President of the UMWA, of his desire to terminate Ms. Moore and Mr. Johnson, and to transfer Mr. Baker to another department.

Mr. Burton sent a personal and confidential memorandum to Mr. Trumka on February 7, 1994, listing the names of ten staff and wage employees to be terminated, effective February 15, 1994, including Ms. Moore, the only female on the list. Mr. Johnson's name was not on the list. *fn4 The full-time males on the list previously had been informed of their shortcomings such as incompetency and dishonesty, and had been given opportunities to correct their behavior. Ms. Moore had never been informed of any shortcomings. On February 9, 1994, Mr. Burton summoned Mr. Hawthorne to a meeting with Mr. Trumka, and instructed Mr. Hawthorne to terminate Ms. Moore, but not Mr. Johnson. On the same day, Mr. Hawthorne sent a memorandum to Mr. Burton setting forth the names of persons selected to replace Ms. Moore and Mr. Baker, who had been transferred to another department. The memorandum listed the names of Calvin Zon, described as "a longtime writer and associate editor at Press Associates, a labor-oriented news service for unions and other progressive groups"; and J.D. Hill, a labor union member, depicted as "a total team player . . . [who] wrote for a local newsletter, and [was] 5 credits short of a B.A. in Labor-Management Relations." Mr. Hawthorne's request to hire the two men was approved on February 9, 1994. Calvin Zon apparently commenced his duties on April 18, 1994, at a salary of $40,500, the same salary Ms. Moore was earning when she was terminated.

Ms. Moore was told of her termination orally and in writing on February 10, 1994. Mr. Hawthorne spoke with Ms. Moore and [717 A2d Page 336]

said, inter alia, "This really sucks, but there is a layoff list, and you're on it. . . . I tried to fight for you but I was told there would be no discussion." *fn5 Mr. Burton sent Ms. Moore a written memorandum attributing her termination to "finances and considerations surrounding the overall efficiency of [UMWA's] organization." *fn5

Ms. Moore was instructed not to return to UMWA after February 10, 1994, and her request for exit interviews with Mr. Trumka and two other UMWA officers was denied. After an extensive search for another job, Ms. Moore found a part-time position in June 1994, writing "national news, business news, [and] sports" at Standard News at a wage of $12 per hour, with no health benefits. Several months later, when UMWA advertised the communications director position, Ms. Moore sent a June 30, 1994 letter of application to Mr. Trumka, with a copy to Mr. Hawthorne. She sent a follow-up letter on July 25, 1994 to UMWA's personnel director, Mr. Baker. On August 1, 1994, UMWA increased Mr. Zon's salary from $40,500 to $43,750, and made the same adjustment to Mr. Johnson's salary. On the next day, Mr. Baker acknowledged receipt of Ms. Moore's letter of application, but maintained that "the UMWA has no job vacancies." In December 1995, Ms. Moore was hired by the American Speech Language Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland as a news writer and producer, at a salary of $37,200.

Ms. Moore filed a verified complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on February 6, 1995, alleging sex discrimination with respect to her termination. A jury trial took place in late April and early May 1996. In addition to presenting evidence detailing her work history with UMWA, her qualifications and achievements as a writer, and events surrounding her termination, all described above, Ms. Moore recounted instances in which UMWA officials made comments pertaining to female employees.

When the name Lisa Parnell, a female coal miner from Alabama and a person active in the CEP appeared in a UMWA newsletter, Mr. Burton reportedly ordered the UMW Journal "to sever all ties with [her]." In addition, Mr. Stropp, UMWA's General Counsel, told Ms. Moore in mid-October 1993 that "Lisa got in . . . some trouble down [in Alabama]." Ms. Moore asked him what he meant, citing the $14,000 Ms. Parnell helped to raise to support a 1993 strike. Mr. Stropp replied: "Well, . . . [y]ou know how she is. . . . You know, Marat, you can't be a woman and be outspoken in this union." *fn6 Ms. Moore retorted: "Yes, you can Bob, but you pay the price."

After the jury returned a verdict in Ms. Moore's favor, and awarded her compensatory and punitive damages, UMWA filed a "motion for judgment as a matter of law or in the alternative for new trial or remittitur." The trial court denied the motion for judgment as a matter of law or new trial as to liability, stating:

Here the only substantial question was whether Plaintiff proved her discharge arose from gender discrimination notwithstanding Defendant's explanation that her discharge was based upon her mishandling of the CEP conference scheduled at the Executive Inn in Evansville, [Indiana,] a hotel owned by coal mine operators who were particularly offensive to the UMWA. On that question there was substantial evidence supporting Plaintiff's view of the evidence. Plaintiff was placed on a termination list with nine males who were palpably less qualified than Plaintiff. Plaintiff was told her discharge was for financial reasons — admittedly a pretext, according to the Defendant, (in order to spare the feelings of those discharged). A substantially less qualified male was hired to replace Plaintiff after a search conducted in secret before Plaintiff was told she was terminated, for "financial" reasons. A [717 A2d Page 337]

male colleague, Mr. Johnson, was terminated a year after Plaintiff for conduct which could be seen as more ...


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