United States District Court, District of Columbia
HARRIETT A. AMES, Plaintiff,
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, Secretary of Homeland Security, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
four-day trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of
Defendants Department of Homeland Security
(“DHS”) and the Secretary of DHS on Plaintiff
Harriett Ames's discrimination and retaliation claims
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff is
the former Chief of the Personnel Security Branch within the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”), a
component of DHS. Plaintiff brought this action under Title
VII, alleging, among other things, that FEMA discriminated
against her on the basis of sex and race and retaliated
against her for engaging in prior protected activity by
reassigning her to the position of Chief of the Training
the court is Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment as a Matter
of Law or, in the Alternative, for a New Trial, ECF
No. 149. For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiff's Motion is denied.
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
court begins with-and quickly dismisses-Plaintiff's
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 50(b). Under Rule 50, a court may grant a
motion for judgment as a matter of law after a jury trial if
it finds that “a reasonable jury would not have a
legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the
[nonmoving] party on th[e] issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(a)(1). To determine whether this standard is met, the
court “should review all of the evidence in the
record” and “must draw all reasonable inferences
in favor of the nonmoving party.” Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150
(2000). “In doing so, however, the court . . . may not
make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.”
Plaintiff acknowledges that credibility determinations are
off-limits in evaluating a party's Rule 50 motion.
See Pl.'s Mot. for J. as Matter of Law or, in
the Alternative, for New Trial, ECF No. 149,
Pl.'s Mem. of P. & A., ECF No. 149-1 [hereinafter
Pl.'s Mem.], at 6-7. Nevertheless, Plaintiff asks the
court to grant her Rule 50 motion because Defendants
“failed to rebut [her] prima facie case at
trial by offering credible admissible evidence that
there was a legitimate business reason for the actions taken
against [her].” Id. at 8 (emphasis added).
Indeed, her entire argument is premised on the credibility of
various players involved in her reassignment. Id. at
8; see Id. at 3-4 (describing testimony of witnesses
Cantu, Salazar, and Oliver as “inconsistent”
and/or “false”). True, there were some
inconsistencies in the testimony regarding the reasons for
Plaintiff's reassignment and who made the decision to
reassign her. See Id. at 3- 4. But it was within the
province of the jury to assess the credibility of the
witnesses in light of those inconsistencies and to determine
how much weight, if any, to give their testimony. See
Williams v. Johnson, 870 F.Supp.2d 158, 162 (D.D.C.
2012) (“[B]ecause the fundamental function of the jury
is ‘to select, from among conflicting inferences and
conclusions, that which it finds most reasonable,'
‘the court cannot substitute its view for that of the
jury, and can assess neither the credibility nor weight of
the evidence.'”) (first quoting Metrocare v.
Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 679 F.2d 922, 924 (D.C.
Cir. 1982); then quoting Scott v. District of
Columbia, 101 F.3d 748, 752 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). Thus, for
the same reasons stated at trial, Plaintiff's Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law is denied. See Jury
Trial Tr., ECF No. 145, at 840-41 (denying Plaintiff's
Rule 50(a) motion for same reasons court denied
Defendants' Rule 50(a) motion); see also Id. at
839-40 (denying Defendants' Rule 50(a) motion); Jury
Trial Tr., ECF No. 142, at 361- 64 (same). Viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to Defendants, a
reasonable jury could have credited the non-discriminatory
and non-retaliatory reasons offered for Plaintiff's
reassignment. See Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s
Mot. for J. as Matter of Law or, in the Alternative, for
New Trial, ECF No. 152, at 3-5 (summarizing evidence
presented at trial); see also Williams, 870
F.Supp.2d at 162 (“The jury's verdict must stand
‘unless the evidence and all reasonable inferences that
can be drawn therefrom are so one-sided that reasonable men
and women could not disagree.'”) (quoting
Scott, 101 F.3d at 752).
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
concluded that Plaintiff is not entitled to judgment as a
matter of law under Rule 50, the court turns to
Plaintiff's alternative argument that a new trial is
warranted under Rule 59. Rule 59 allows a court to grant a
new trial after a jury verdict “for any reason for
which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at
law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A).
“The authority to grant a new trial . . . is confided
almost entirely to the exercise of discretion on the part of
the trial court.” Queen v. Schultz, 310 F.R.D.
10, 21 (D.D.C. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting
Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36
(1980)). While the trial court is entrusted with the exercise
of discretion, “[a] new trial should be granted only
where the court is convinced that the jury verdict was a
seriously erroneous result and where denial of the motion
will result in a clear miscarriage of justice.” Lee
v. District of Columbia, 19 F.Supp.3d 281, 286 (D.D.C.
2014) (internal quotation marks omitted).
offers five reasons why she is entitled to a new trial under
Rule 59. As discussed below, none of these reasons warrant
upsetting the jury's verdict.
“False Testimony” of Plaintiff's
first claims that she is entitled to a new trial because
“[t]he previous false testimony by Messrs. Cantu,
Salazar, and Oliver”-coupled with Defendants'
“failure to offer any admissible, credible evidence
from these decision-makers to rebut plaintiff's prima
facie cases of discrimination and
retaliation”-make clear that the jury's verdict in
favor of Defendants was a “seriously erroneous
result.” Pl.'s Mem. at 9; accord Id.
(“Thus, denial of this motion would result in a
‘clear miscarriage of justice.'”). The court
need not linger over this first argument, as it is based on
the same erroneous premise advanced in support of
Plaintiff's motion for judgment as a matter of law: that
the court can countermand a jury's credibility
determination. Therefore, the court rejects this argument for
largely the same reasons stated above. Cf. Vander Zee v.
Karabatsos, 589 F.2d 723, 729 (D.C. Cir. 1978)
(“The trial court's contrary view of the
credibility of the witnesses does not justify the granting of
a new trial.”); Hancock v. Wash. Hosp. Ctr.,
13 F.Supp.3d 1, 10 (D.D.C. 2014) (holding that weight of
evidence did not mandate new trial under Rule 59 where court
already found that plaintiff failed to meet Rule 50
“Continuing Discovery Abuses”
court easily disposes of Plaintiff's second argument,
too. While Plaintiff contends that Defendants'
“continuing discovery violations” warrant a new
trial, see Pl.'s Mem. at 9, no such violations
occurred. As the court explained in denying Plaintiff's
motion in limine to exclude Kimberly Lew's November 2,
2011 email and testimony at trial, Defendants'
disclosures were timely, albeit barely, and thus automatic
exclusion was not warranted under Rule 37(c)(1). See
Pretrial Hr'g Tr., ECF No. 140, at 17-18. Furthermore, to
mitigate any prejudice to Plaintiff caused by Defendants'
last-minute disclosures, the court ordered Defendants to make
Ms. Lew available for a deposition before trial. See
Omnibus Pretrial Order, ECF No. 116, ¶ 1.
extent Plaintiff claims that she was prejudiced by the late
timing of Ms. Lew's deposition, which took place only
four days before trial, see Pl.'s Mem. at 9, it
is Plaintiff who waited approximately a year and
a half to complain to the court about the lateness of
disclosures related to Lew,  see Minute Order, Sept.
27, 2016 (setting October 21, 2016 as discovery deadline);
Pl.'s First Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 92 (dated April 20,
2018) (seeking to exclude evidence concerning Lew). Rather
than raising the issue at the Post-Discovery Conference,
see Hr'g Tr. (draft), Oct. 25, 2016, at 2-4, or
in her request to reopen discovery pursuant to Rule 56(d),
see Pl.'s Opp'n to Mot. for Summ. J., ECF
No. 76, at 32,  Plaintiff waited until she filed her first
motion in limine to formally raise the issue with the court.
Plaintiff cannot now be heard to complain about the timing of
Lew's deposition when Plaintiff failed to exercise
diligence in trying to obtain her testimony on an earlier
in her present motion, Plaintiff fails to identify any
concrete way in which the timing of the deposition actually
prejudiced her. Instead, she simply states that she was
“denied the opportunity of using the surprise Lew
admission”-that is, that Ms. Lew “had no personal
knowledge” about the reasons she gave, and Defendants
adopted, in recommending Plaintiff's reassignment-when
“planning her case, issuing discovery requests, taking
depositions, and preparing for trial.” Pl.'s Mem.
at 9-10. This assertion is perplexing, as Plaintiff
cross-examined Ms. Lew at trial about her lack of personal
knowledge. Jury Trial Tr., ECF No. 143, at 560-61. In any
event, Plaintiff's generic proclamation of harm does
little to convince the court that it erred in denying
Plaintiff's motion in limine, let alone that such an
error resulted in a “clear miscarriage of
justice.” See Moore v. Hartman, 102 F.Supp.3d
35, 139 (D.D.C. 2015) (“[T]he standard for granting a
new trial is not whether minor evidentiary errors were made
but rather whether there was a clear miscarriage of
justice.” (internal quotation marks omitted)); cf.
Muldrow ex rel. Estate of Muldrow v. Re-Direct, Inc.,
493 F.3d 160, 167 (D.C. Cir. 2007) ...