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TENEYCK v. OMNI SHOREHAM HOTEL

March 20, 2003

LILLIE TENEYCK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OMNI SHOREHAM HOTEL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Background

In this employment discrimination action, plaintiff, Lillie Teneyck ("Teneyck"), claims that defendant, the Omni Shoreham Hotel, discriminated against her by not hiring her for a vacant housekeeper position because of her race (black) and national origin (United States born)*fn1 in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and because of her age (over 40 years) in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. A jury trial in this matter commenced on January 28, 2003.

At the close of Teneyck's case-in-chief, defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant argued that, based solely on the evidence presented in Teneyck's case-in-chief, a reasonable jury could not infer discrimination by defendant based on any of the grounds raised by Teneyck, and, therefore, could not return a verdict in her favor. For the reasons stated herein, the Court granted defendant's motion.

II. Judgment as a Matter of Law Standard

In relevant part, Rule 50(a) provides:

If during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue, the court may determine the issue against that party and may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against that party with respect to a claim or defense that cannot under the controlling law be maintained or defeated without a favorable finding on that issue.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). The application of this rule is similar to the standard courts employ when evaluating summary judgment motions, "such that `the inquiry under each is the same.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-251 (1986)). When entertaining a motion for judgment as a matter of law, "the court should review all of the evidence in the record." Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150. In so doing, the Court may not infringe on the province of the jury. It may not make determinations regarding credibility of witnesses or the weight of the evidence. Id. "[T]he court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that `evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'" Id. at 151 (quoting 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2529, p. 300 (2d ed. 1995)).

III. Teneyck's burden of proof

One of Teneyck's burdens at trial was to present evidence from which "a reasonable jury could have found . . . intentional discrimination." Dunaway v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 310 F.3d 758, 763 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (quoting McGill v. Munoz, 203 F.3d 843, 846 (D.C. Cir. 2000)). At all times, it is the plaintiff's burden to "persuad[e] the trier of fact that the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff." Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). In order to prevail at trial, based on the available evidence presented, a jury must be able to:

infer discrimination from the combination of (1) the plaintiff's prima facie case; (2) any evidence the plaintiff presents to attack the employer's proffered explanation for its actions; and (3) any further evidence of discrimination that may be available to the plaintiff (such as independent evidence of discriminatory statements or attitudes on the part of the employer).
Waterhouse v. District of Columbia, 298 F.3d 989, 993 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citing Aka v. Washington Hospital Center, 156 F.3d 1284, 1289 (D.C. Cir. 1998)). Such evidence may be either direct or circumstantial. Dunaway, 310 F.3d at 763 (citing United States Postal Serv. Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 717 (1983)). Direct evidence in employment discrimination actions may be difficult to produce, however. "[A]pplicants for employment have great informational disadvantages: they cannot reach into the minds of decisionmakers, and therefore they usually can gather only circumstantial evidence of discriminatory motives." Cuddy v. Carmen, 694 F.2d 853, 859 (D.C. Cir. 1982).

Under the familiar framework set forth in McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), a plaintiff raising an employment discrimination claim may create a presumption of an employer's unlawful discrimination by establishing a prima facie case.*fn2 See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254. To establish a prima facie case of race discrimination, a plaintiff must "establish[] that: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the unfavorable action gives rise to an inference of discrimination."*fn3 Stella v. Mineta, 284 F.3d 135, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (citing Brown v. Brody, 199 F.3d 446, 452 (D.C. Cir. 1999)).

The McDonnell Douglas framework is also applicable to age discrimination claims under the ADEA. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 142 (assumed that McDonnell Douglas framework fully applies to ADEA action); O'Connor v. Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp., 517 U.S. 308, 311 (1996) (same). Accordingly, to make out a prima facie case of age discrimination, plaintiff must establish her membership in the protected age group, her qualifications for the position, and that she was not selected for the position. Cuddy, 694 F.2d at 857. At bottom, "a plaintiff must demonstrate facts sufficient to create a reasonable inference that age discrimination was a `determining factor' in the employment decision."*fn4 Id. at 856-57.

IV. Teneyck's case-in-chief

Teneyck's case-in-chief consisted only of her testimony. Regarding her race discrimination claim, Teneyck established that she is black, that defendant had an available housekeeper position at the time she applied, that she was qualified for the position, and that she was not selected for the position. Regarding her age discrimination claim, Teneyck established that she was 61 years of age at the time she applied for the housekeeper position, that defendant had a housekeeper position open at that time, that she was qualified for the position, and that she was not hired for the position. There is no dispute that Teneyck is a member of the two protected classes and that she suffered an adverse employment action by defendant's decision not to hire her. At most, Teneyck's testimony eliminated "the two most common legitimate reasons on which an employer might rely to reject a job applicant: an absolute or relative ...


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