Eleventh Circuit Vacates Judgment as a Matter of Law Based on Inconsistent Jury Verdicts

In Connelly v. Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, No. 13-14032 (Sept. 4, 2014), the Eleventh Circuit held that the “district court erred when it entered a judgment as a matter of law based on inconsistent jury verdicts.”  Additionally, the Court affirmed a summary judgment against the plaintiff’s claim of discrimination against his supervisor.

Darryl Connelly, a white male, was fired not long after his employer, Transit Authority, hired Cheryl King, a black female, to be Connelly’s supervisor.  Before King was hired, Connelly’s evaluations applauded him for his leadership and integrity, among other things, but other employees complained about him to the supervisor.  Connelly believed that King treated white employees differently from black employees.  When Connelly was fired, they never told him that he was fired for cause, but only stated that he was no longer needed. Connelly filed a suit against Transit Authority and King, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation for protected activity. The jury returned a verdict against Transit Authority for retaliation but found in favor of King.  Afterwards, the district court vacated the judgment against Transit Authority and granted a motion for a judgment as a matter of law in favor of Transit Authority.

Connelly’s appeal was based on three arguments.  First, Connelly argued that the district court erred when it vacated the judgment against Transit Authority, because Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 states that, for motions for judgment as a matter of law, only the sufficiency of evidence may be considered.  The Eleventh Circuit agreed, relying on Hubbard v. BankAtlantic Bancorp, Inc., 68 F.3d 713, 716 (11th Cir. 2012), which found that “[w]hen a court considers a motion for judgment as a matter of law—even after the jury has rendered a verdict—only the sufficiency of the evidence matters. The findings are irrelevant.”  Because the district court based their decision on allegedly inconsistent jury verdicts, the court erred in granting the motion for a judgment as a matter of law.

Second, Connelly argued that the court erred in granting summary judgment against his racial discrimination claims.  However, Connelly did not establish the prima facie case of racial discrimination, which requires that Connelly “was a member of a protected class; he was qualified for the job; he was terminated despite his qualifications; and after his termination the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants of similar qualifications.” Evans v. McClain of Ga., Inc., 131 F.3d 957, 964 (11th  Cir. 1997).  King did not seek a replacement for Connelly’s position.  Later, when she created a new position, she hired a white male.  Racial discrimination cannot be inferred from those facts.  Additionally, Connelly’s argument that he presented enough circumstantial evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact failed because Connelly’s only evidence of racial discrimination were three incidents where King called herself a “mean black bitch” and that King socialized with black employees.

Last, Connelly claimed that the district court was incorrect when it did not allow discovery about communications between King and Elizabeth O’Neill, the chief legal counsel for Transit Authority.  However, Connelly failed to ask questions in the deposition of O’Neill about the communication between her and King; Connelly even agreed to not ask those questions.  “[P]arties are bound by their stipulations.” G.I.C. Corp. v. United States, 121 F.3d 1447, 1450 (11th Cir. 1997).  Therefore, Connelly waived his dispute of the district court’s discovery ruling.

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