United States District Court, District of Columbia
MARK E. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
LAW; DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO ALTER
OR AMEND JUDGMENT; GRANTING IN PART
PLAINTIFF'S SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS'
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
three day trial, a jury found that Defendant the District of
Columbia discriminated against Plaintiff Mark Robinson on the
basis of race when it deprived him of certain overtime
opportunities within the District's Metropolitan Police
Department (“MPD”). This discrimination violated
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-16(a). The jury awarded Mr. Robinson $750 in
compensatory damages. After a round of post-trial briefing,
this Court awarded Mr. Robinson injunctive relief, back pay,
and attorneys' fees.
District has filed two post-judgment motions. First, the
District moves for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that
no reasonable jury could conclude that Mr. Robinson suffered
an adverse employment action required for Title VII
liability. Second, the District moves to alter the
Court's order granting Mr. Robinson injunctive relief,
back pay, and attorneys' fees, arguing that the relief is
“manifestly unjust” in light of the governing law
and the evidence presented in this case. The Court concludes
that the jury could reasonably find that Mr. Robinson
suffered an adverse employment action. The Court also
concludes that its post-trial relief is supported by the
record and is necessary to fulfill Title VII's mandate.
The Court thus denies the District's motions, and grants
Mr. Robinson additional attorneys' fees.
Court's prior memorandum opinions in this case contain
detailed background summaries. See Robinson v. District
of Columbia, 341 F.Supp.3d 97, 103-05 (D.D.C. 2018);
Robinson v. District of Columbia, 275 F.Supp.3d 95,
99-101 (D.D.C. 2017). The Court will briefly recount the
relevant background here. Mr. Robinson is a sworn MPD
officer. See Trial Tr. 77:23-78:1, Mar. 12, 2018,
ECF No. 83 (test. of Mark Robinson). He spent several years
in MPD's Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit
(“ATEU”), a division created to organize traffic
camera photographs, analyze evidence of traffic violations,
and issue tickets. See Id. 50:10-22 (test. of
Sharion Garner), 81:3-12 (test. of Mark Robinson). Assignment
to the ATEU was apparently lucrative; Mr. Robinson earned
significant overtime pay while in the division. See
Id. 102:4-19 (test. of Mark Robinson).
2011, Mr. Robinson was transferred from the ATEU to MPD's
Special Events Branch (“SEB”), ostensibly because
MPD was “civilianizing” the ATEU. See
Trial Tr. 8:2-13 (Mar. 13, 2018) (test. of Mark Robinson). At
this point, although Mr. Robinson was no longer working full
time in the ATEU, he could still earn overtime hours through
the ATEU Overtime Program. See Id. 89:13-91:7 (test.
of Lisa Sutter). Between February 2014 and May 2015, Mr.
Robinson attempted to participate in the Program. See
Id. 15:17-16:7 (test. of Mark Robinson). The Program
manager, Lisa Sutter, denied his requests. See Id.
these denials to be discriminatory, and receiving no recourse
through administrative channels, Mr. Robinson brought this
case in 2015. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1-3, at
5. He alleged that the District violated Title VII when it
transferred him out of the ATEU, denied his request for
reassignment to the ATEU, and denied him access to the ATEU
Overtime Program between February 2014 and May 2015, all
because of his race or in retaliation for complaining about
racial discrimination. See generally Id. After
several rounds of briefing, the case proceeded to trial on
Mr. Robinson's claim that he was blocked from the ATEU
Overtime Program because of discrimination or retaliation.
See Robinson, 275 F.Supp.3d at 104-05. The Court
dismissed Mr. Robinson's retaliation claim at the end of
his case, leaving only Mr. Robinson's discrimination
claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(2); Min. Entry
(Mar. 13, 2018). On that claim, the jury found that the
District discriminated against Mr. Robinson by denying him
ATEU overtime opportunities, and it awarded him $750 in
damages. See Verdict Form, ECF No. 56.
jury's verdict has precipitated contentious post-trial
litigation. First, Mr. Robinson filed motions for back pay,
injunctive relief, and attorneys' fees, which the Court
granted in part. See Robinson, 341 F.Supp.3d at 124.
Now, the District has struck back. It has filed motions for
judgment as a matter of law, and to alter or amend the
post-trial relief. Mr. Robinson opposes these motions and
seeks additional attorneys' fees. All three motions are
ripe for the Court's consideration. It will address them
MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
the Court considers the District's motion, under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b)(3), for judgment as a matter of
law. See Def.'s Mot. J. Matter of Law, ECF No.
85. Mr. Robinson contests this motion on the merits, but also
raises a procedural challenge. A brief summary of Rule 50
procedure is thus in order. Rule 50(a) allows a party in a
jury trial to move for judgment as a matter of law after
“a party has been fully heard on an issue” and
“before the case is submitted to the jury.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). If the Court finds that “a
reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient
evidentiary basis” to find for the nonmoving party on
that issue, then the Court may grant the motion for judgment
as a matter of law on any “claim or defense that, under
the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with
a favorable finding on that issue.” Id. If the
Court does not grant the motion, however, the Court “is
considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject
to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised
by the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).
the jury renders its verdict, Rule 50(b) allows the moving
party, “[n]o later than 28 days after the entry of
judgment, ” to renew its motion for judgment as a
matter of law. Id. “Because the Rule 50(b)
motion is only a renewal of the preverdict motion, it can be
granted only on grounds advanced in the preverdict
motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 Advisory Committee Note to
2006 Amendment; accord Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker,
554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008) (“A motion under Rule
50(b) is not allowed unless the movant sought relief on
similar grounds under Rule 50(a) before the case was
submitted to the jury.”).
ruling on a Rule 50(b) motion, the Court “do[es] not .
. . lightly disturb a jury verdict.” Radtke v.
Lifecare Mgmt. Partners, 795 F.3d 159, 163 (D.C. Cir.
2015) (ellipsis in original) (quoting Muldrow v.
Re-Direct, Inc., 493 F.3d 160, 165 (D.C. Cir. 2007));
see also Breeden v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., 646 F.3d
43, 53 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (“[J]udgment as a matter of law
is ‘highly disfavored' because it ‘intrudes
upon the rightful province of the jury'” (quoting
Boodoo v. Cary, 21 F.3d 1157, 1161 (D.C. Cir.
1994))). The Court must resolve all reasonable inferences in
the nonmovant's favor. See Breeden, 646 F.3d at
53. The Court cannot substitute its view for the jury's
view, assess witnesses' credibility, or weigh the
evidence. See Scott v. District of Columbia, 101
F.3d 748, 753 (D.C. Cir. 1996). And “[e]ven if the
Court finds the evidence that led to the jury verdict
unpersuasive, or that it would have reached a different
result if it were sitting as the fact-finder, that is not a
basis for overturning the jury's verdict and granting
judgment as a matter of law.” Pitt v. District of
Columbia, 558 F.Supp.2d 11, 15-16 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing
9 Moore's Federal Practice § 50.60 at 50-87 (3d
ed. 2002)). The jury's verdict will stand if the evidence
in support is “‘significantly probative' and
‘more than merely colorable.'”
Scott, 101 F.3d at 753 (quoting Ferguson v. F.R.
Winkler GMBH & Co. KG, 79 F.3d 1221, 1224 (D.C. Cir.
1996)). In other words, “[j]udgment as a matter of law
is appropriate only if the evidence and all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn therefrom are so one-sided that
reasonable men and women could not have reached a verdict in
plaintiff's favor.” Muldrow, 493 F.3d at
165 (quoting McGill v. Muñoz, 203 F.3d 843,
845 (D.C. Cir. 2000)).
the jury found that the District discriminated against Mr.
Robinson by denying him the opportunity to participate in the
ATEU Overtime Program. Under Title VII, “the two
essential elements of a discrimination claim are that (i) the
plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action (ii) because
of the plaintiff's race, color, religion, sex, national
origin, age, or disability.” Baloch v.
Kempthorne, 550 F.3d 1191, 1196 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (citing
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a)). The District does not
challenge the jury's finding on the second element; that
Mr. Robinson was deprived of access to the ATEU Overtime
Program because of his race. Rather, the District focuses on
the first element. It argues that no reasonable jury could
have found that Mr. Robinson suffered an adverse employment
action. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. J. Matter of
Law (“Def.'s Rule 50 Mem.”) at 1, ECF No. 85.
adverse employment action is ‘a significant change in
employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to
promote, reassignment with significantly different
responsibilities, or a decision causing significant change in
benefits.'” Jones v. Castro, 168 F.Supp.3d
169, 174 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Douglas v. Donovan,
559 F.3d 549, 552 (D.C. Cir. 2009)). “For employment
actions that do not obviously result in a significant change
in employment status . . . an employee must go the further
step of demonstrating how the decision nonetheless caused . .
. an objectively tangible harm.” Id. (quoting
Douglas, 559 F.3d at 553). In such a case, the court
must determine “whether the alleged harm is unduly
speculative.” Douglas, 559 F.3d at 553.
“Showing that harm is not speculative need not be a
difficult task, and it often is not.” Id.
denial of overtime opportunities is the type of employment
action that typically requires a showing of objectively
tangible harm. This is because while overtime comes with
“a tangible monetary advantage, ” it “is
not universally regarded as desirable.” Bell v.
Gonzales, 398 F.Supp.2d 78, 97 (D.D.C. 2005). Thus, a
lost opportunity for overtime is considered an adverse action
only when it is “associated with a fundamental
alteration in the conditions of employment, such as a
transfer or reassignment of duties that has a significant
adverse impact on overtime opportunities, and the plaintiff
demonstrates that ‘[he] in the past sought
opportunities for overtime pay or it was otherwise known to
defendant that [he] desired such opportunities.'”
Caul v. U.S. Capitol Police, No. 15-1243, 2016 WL
2962194, at *9 (D.D.C. May 19, 2016) (quoting Sims v.
District of Columbia, 33 F.Supp.3d 1, 7 (D.D.C. 2014));
see also Bell, 398 F.Supp.2d at 97. “The
duration and frequency of the denial of overtime
opportunities are both significant factors in evaluating the
adversity presented by such a discrimination claim.”
District concedes that “it is undisputed that [Mr.
Robinson] sought overtime opportunities in the ATEU Overtime
Program and that the District knew [he] desired these
opportunities.” Def.'s Rule 50 Mem. at 9. It puts
forth two reasons, however, why a reasonable jury still could
not find that Mr. Robinson suffered an adverse employment
action. First, the District contends that Mr. Robinson
“failed at trial to present any evidence about how many
hours he earned in the ATEU Overtime Program before his
exclusion in February 2014.” Def.'s Rule 50 Mem. at
9. Second, the District contends that Mr. Robinson “did
not establish that he was unable to earn the same amount of
overtime hours in the SEB” as he would have through the
ATEU, absent discrimination. Id. Without this
evidence, according to the District, a reasonable juror could
not have concluded that Mr. Robinson “suffered an
objectively tangible harm” necessary for Title VII
initial matter, Mr. Robinson argues that the District's
motion is “procedurally barred” because it raises
arguments not raised in the District's Rule 50(a) trial
motions. Pl.'s Opp'n Def.'s Mot. J. Matter of Law
(“Rule 50 Opp'n”) at 2, ECF No. 91. It is
true that “Rule 50(b) permits only the
‘renewing' of arguments made in prior Rule 50(a)
motions.” Campbell v. District of Columbia,
894 F.3d 281, 286 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (citing Fed. R. Riv. P.
50(b); Exxon Shipping, 554 U.S. at 485 n.5). But the
District complied with that rule here. The trial record,
which Mr. Robinson admits he did not have when drafting his
brief, see Rule 50 Opp'n at 4 n.3, bears this
out. After Mr. Robinson's case-in-chief, the District
argued that Mr. Robinson “failed to prove an adverse
employment action” because (1) he put forth minimal
evidence “about what overtime that was actually
certified operator overtime”-i.e. ATEU Overtime Program
hours- “that he worked” before the discrimination
period; and (2) “he actually testified that he was
never denied overtime shifts in the [SEB].” Trial Tr.
72:22-73:11, Mar. 13, 2018. After the parties rested their
cases, the District argued that Mr. Robinson failed to
“show an adverse action” because the
District's evidence “establishe[d] that he had
opportunities to work overtime in the [SEB] that could have
been equal to what he claims to have worked when he was in
the ATEU.” Trial Tr. 39:6-14, Mar. 14, 2018. Thus, both
at trial and in its current motion, the District argued that
Mr. Robinson failed to show, more than speculatively, that he
was deprived of overtime hours he would have earned but for
the District's discrimination. While the District may not
have phrased its arguments identically at trial and in its
current motion, the District satisfied Rule 50's
function, “which is to provide notice of legal
arguments and prevent counsel from sandbagging an opposing
party by waiting until after entry of the judgment to raise a
new argument that requires new evidence to be
rebutted.” Campbell, 894 F.3d at 287 (citing
Teneyck v. Omni Shoreham Hotel, 365 F.3d 1139, 1149
(D.C. Cir. 2004)). The District's Rule 50(b) arguments
were properly preserved.
overcome that procedural challenge, the Court turns to the
merits. The District's two core arguments raise one core
question: Could a reasonable jury conclude, based on the
evidence presented, that the District caused a
“significant adverse impact” on Mr.
Robinson's overtime opportunities? The answer is yes.
trial, Mr. Robinson described the plentiful overtime
opportunities available to him through the ATEU Overtime
Program. He testified, and the District did not contradict,
that ATEU Overtime Program shifts were readily available
twenty-four hours a day, six days a week. See Trial
Tr. 23:9-14, Mar. 13, 2018 (test. of Mark Robinson).
Participating officers could plan their own overtime
schedules in advance, see Id. 27:16-23, or sign up
electronically for “standby” shifts, without the
need for supervisor approval, see Id. 29:24-30:11.
Each shift lasted for eight hours. See Id. 47:4-15.
in the SEB, on the other hand, came “in spurts, ”
“not 24 hours a day, ” and it was “not
offered 6 days a week.” Id. at 21:10-20. It
was also a combination of mandatory and voluntary overtime,
depending on event timing and staffing decisions.
See Trial Tr. 19:5-20, Mar. 14, 2019 (test. of
Robert Glover). And SEB overtime shifts appear to have lasted
for less than eight hours. See Id. at 13:24-14:1
(stating than an SEB officer could earn “six to seven
hours of overtime for each presidential movement”). Mr.
Robinson testified that within those constraints, he earned
SEB overtime “as much as [he] could;” he
“worked the overtime that was available.” Trial
Tr. 25:17-25, Mar. 13, 2019 (test. of Mark Robinson).
according to Mr. Robinson, he would have earned hours in the
ATEU Overtime Program “above and beyond” what he
earned through the SEB. Id. at 26:9-12. He explained
that this was because the ATEU Overtime Program simply
provided more overtime opportunities and more flexibility.
See Id. at 27:2-23. And this was borne out by the
record: Mr. Robinson earned over 1, 000 ATEU overtime hours
in 2010, see Pl.'s Mot. Back Pay Ex. 2 at 21,
ECF No. 70-2, and only 525.75 SEB overtime hours during the
fifteen-month discrimination period, see Def.'s
Rule 50 Mem. Ex. 3, ECF No. 85-3. Given this evidence, a
reasonable jury could conclude that Mr. Robinson's
exclusion from the ATEU Overtime Program materially reduced
his overtime opportunities, and thus his compensation.
District suggests that to show objectively tangible harm, Mr.
Robinson was required to precisely quantify the number of
hours he earned in the ATEU Overtime Program before the
discrimination period, and compare it to the hours he earned
when he could not access the Program. See Def.'s
Rule 50 Mem. at 10. True, Mr. Robinson needed to show that
the District deprived him of a non-trivial amount of overtime
that he would have actually earned. See Anyaso v. U.S.
Capitol Police, 39 F.Supp.3d 34, 41 n.2 (D.D.C. 2014)
(holding that “[t]he mere conclusory assertion that
[the plaintiff] might have had additional
opportunities for overtime, ” but for the
defendant's action, was not sufficient to show an adverse
employment action); Sims, 33 F.Supp.3d at 8
(rejecting an overtime-based discrimination claim where the
evidence showed only that the plaintiff “may have lost
the opportunity to earn overtime pay while participating in .
. . two short-term detail assignments, ” but was
otherwise not denied overtime opportunities); Caul,
2016 WL 2962194, at *13 (“A onetime denial of overtime
request in the context of the plaintiff's admissions that
his requests for overtime were regularly approved, does not
cause a significant change in benefits.”
(emphasis in original) (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted)). His allegations could not be “unduly
speculative.” Douglas, 559 F.3d at 553.
law does not require the absolute precision advocated by the
District. Rather, Mr. Robinson needed only to convince the
jury that he would have consistently earned hours in the ATEU
Overtime Program, that the District prevented him from doing
so, and that the SEB provided significantly inferior overtime
opportunities. See Lewis v. City of Chicago, 496
F.3d 645, 654 (7th Cir. 2007) (holding that the plaintiff
could have suffered an adverse employment action if she
“lost the potential to earn many hours of
overtime.”); Bell, 398 F.Supp.2d at 97-98
(allowing the plaintiff's overtime-based retaliation
claim to survive summary judgment where he presented evidence
“showing that substantially more overtime pay was
available . . . on average” to employees in the unit
from which he had been reassigned); Caul, 2016 WL
2962194, at *9 (holding that a plaintiff may suffer an
adverse employment action when he was denied overtime in a
“frequent and recurring” manner). Mr.
Robinson's evidence was sufficiently probative that a
reasonable jury could have reached that
District also argues that Mr. Robinson failed to prove that
he had fewer opportunities to earn overtime in the SEB than
he would have had through the ATEU Overtime Program. The
District notes that Mr. Robinson's SEB supervisor,
Captain Robert Glover, testified that “[i]t would have
been fairly easy [for an SEB officer] to accomplish 20
[overtime] hours in a week.” Trial Tr. 18:5-17, Mar.
14, 2018 (test. of Robert Glover). Captain Glover also
described the types of sporadic overtime opportunities
available to SEB members. See Id. at 15:1-16:11
(listing parades, sporting events, movie sets, and protests
as possible SEB overtime opportunities). But this testimony
is no more precise than Mr. Robinson's testimony to the
contrary. Captain Glover did not identify any specific
opportunities that Mr. Robinson turned down; his testimony
was not even specific to Mr. Robinson's SEB shift
schedule. See Id. at 17:6-16 (stating that
“all three shifts have [overtime]
opportunities”). In other words, Mr. Robinson testified
rather vaguely that his ...