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Scott v. Crestar Financial Corp.

July 26, 2007

VIOLA J. SCOTT, APPELLANT
v.
CRESTAR FINANCIAL CORPORATION, ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA-3530-96) (Hon. Richard A. Levie, First Trial Judge). (Hon. A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., Second Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Senior Judge

Argued June 1, 2000

Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge, RUIZ, Associate Judge, and TERRY, Senior Judge.*fn1

Appellant, Viola Scott, filed suit against her former employer, Crestar Financial Corporation, and her immediate supervisors, Yolette Olufemi and Stuart Henderson, alleging employment discrimination based on national origin and personal appearance, as well as unlawful retaliation. At the end of a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Scott on the national origin and retaliation claims and awarded her one million dollars in compensatory damages. After the parties filed post-trial briefs, the court granted Crestar's motion for a new trial, based upon certain prejudicial remarks contained in the closing argument of Ms. Scott's counsel and the excessiveness of the verdict.

When the case went to trial a second time before a different judge, there were no new witnesses, nor was any additional evidence presented that had not been offered at the first trial. This time, however, the jury returned a verdict for Crestar on all counts. From the judgment on that verdict, Ms. Scott noted this appeal. Before this court she makes two arguments: (1) that the trial judge at the first trial abused his discretion by granting Crestar's motion for new trial, and (2) that the same judge erred in refusing to enter judgment on the verdict immediately, pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 58.*fn2 We reject both arguments and affirm the judgment.

I.

Appellant, Viola Scott, is a black woman and a native-born United States citizen. In August 1978 she began working as a part-time teller at the Riggs Park branch of Perpetual Savings Bank. She was promoted to the position of full-time teller in May 1981 and eventually to the position of teller supervisor.

In 1992 Perpetual was merged into Crestar Bank. Ms. Scott was hired by Crestar as a head teller and continued to work at the Riggs Park branch. In 1994 Crestar appointed Yolette Olufemi, a Haitian-born, naturalized United States citizen, to be the branch manager at Riggs Park. Thereafter Ms. Olufemi promoted Ms. Scott to customer service representative and became her immediate supervisor. Ms. Scott and Ms. Olufemi initially worked well together, but after a while tensions arose in their relationship. According to Ms. Scott, Ms. Olufemi began "making comments about African-American-born black women . . . how they thought they were better than women born of other nationalities," and occasionally made unwelcome comments about Ms. Scott's clothing.*fn3

Ms. Scott testified that Ms. Olufemi often favored non-American black employees from Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In one instance Ms. Olufemi fired Deanne Cox, an American-born assistant branch manager, for an incident involving an automatic teller machine (ATM), but did not discipline Naffie Turray, from Sierra Leone, even though both women were responsible for improperly loading the ATM by placing five-dollar bills into the twenty-dollar canisters.

In 1995 Ms. Scott began having problems with A.C. Waters, a security guard assigned to the bank. According to Ms. Scott, "He would literally stand up and look down toward my drawer and at my hands as I counted the money." Ms. Scott testified that Waters did not watch any of the other tellers in this way. She reported the problem to Ms. Olufemi, who agreed to keep an eye on Mr. Waters and take action if warranted. Months passed, but Ms. Olufemi did not contact Ms. Scott about any further action regarding Mr. Waters.

On February 7, 1996, following another incident with Mr. Waters, Ms. Scott approached Ms. Olufemi in her office. Ms. Scott explained that she was still uncomfortable with the working environment and suggested that Mr. Waters work on days when she was not assigned to the teller window. In response, Ms. Olufemi suggested that Ms. Scott apply for a transfer to a different branch. Ms. Scott rejected this proposal, noting that Mr. Waters was the one causing the problem. The following day Ms. Olufemi told Ms. Scott that Mr. Waters would be assigned to another branch.

During this same period, Katrine Bartree, another teller at the Riggs Park branch, asked Ms. Scott to verify her employment status and income to Gwendolyn Johnson, a property manager at Wingate Associates.*fn4 Ms. Bartree had submitted an application to lease an apartment from Wingate and listed Ms. Scott as her supervisor. When Ms. Johnson called to confirm the information, Ms. Scott told her that Ms. Bartree's salary was $24,000. Thereafter, however, Ms. Johnson discovered that this figure and Ms. Bartree's pay stubs "just didn't match."*fn5

Upon learning of the discrepancy, Ms. Johnson called Ms. Olufemi. It was during this conversation that Ms. Olufemi learned that Ms. Scott had released personal information about a bank employee to a third party. Crestar's Standards of Conduct, a document containing regulations which govern all bank employees, required that all requests for information about current or former employees be referred to the Office of Human Resources. Ms. Olufemi told Ms. Johnson that the salary verified by Ms. Scott was inconsistent with the pay stubs provided by Ms. Bartree. Thereafter Ms. Olufemi consulted with her supervisors about the appropriate way to deal with what had happened.

Approximately one week later, Ms. Olufemi directed Ms. Scott to attend a meeting at the bank's headquarters. Present at that meeting were Ms. Olufemi, Ms. Scott, Ms. Bartree, and Stuart Henderson, a Crestar manager. Ms. Scott believed that the meeting was called to discuss the guard situation and Mr. Waters' transfer. At the meeting, however, Ms. Scott was questioned about the information she had provided on Ms. Bartree's behalf. At the conclusion of the meeting, Ms. Scott was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of the matter. Thereafter Ms. Olufemi contacted Jean Williams, a Crestar Vice President, and discussed the situation with her.

On February 21, 1996, Ms. Scott was summoned to a second meeting at Crestar headquarters. She was again questioned at length about the telephone call from Ms. Johnson and was given an opportunity to provide any new information. At the conclusion of the meeting, she was informed that she was being terminated for breaching Crestar's Standards of Conduct. Ms. Scott testified that after leaving the meeting she "felt ashamed, embarrassed, degraded, and humiliated." In addition, she could not sleep, lost her appetite, and had frequent headaches and crying spells.*fn6 Following her discharge, Ms. Scott applied for teller jobs at Nations Bank, Citizens Bank, and other financial institutions, but with no success.

Yolette Olufemi testified that Ms. Scott was a good employee and said that she "gave her the highest evaluation of anyone in the branch." Furthermore, she said, she never commented on Ms. Scott's wardrobe or personal appearance. With respect to the information given to the apartment manager, Ms. Olufemi said that the decision to terminate Ms. Scott was based on the fact that she knew the information should have been provided by Human Resources but disclosed it ...


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