United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR NEW
THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Plaintiff Cheri Ann Hutson's Motion for New
Trial (ECF No. 122) filed on March 6, 2017. Defendant Federal
Express Corporation has responded in opposition, and
Plaintiff has filed a reply brief. For the reasons set forth
below, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED.
17, 2015, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing pro
se a Complaint against Defendant Federal Express
Corporation (“FedEx”) and several individual
FedEx employees. Plaintiff subsequently retained counsel and
filed a First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 32) against FedEx
only alleging a claim for gender discrimination in violation
of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court
granted in part and denied in part FedEx's Rule 56 motion
for summary judgment, holding that genuine issues of material
fact remained. Trial commenced on Plaintiff's claims on
February 6, 2017. After a four-day trial, the jury returned a
verdict in favor of Defendant on February 9, 2017. The Court
entered its judgment the same day.
Motion before the Court, Plaintiff requests a new trial
pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Plaintiff argues that the Court erred by excluding two pieces
of circumstantial evidence: proof that Defendant
underutilized females in management positions within the
Global Operations Center (“GOC”) and the
testimony of Ronda Doyle about comments made by Paul Tronsor.
With respect to the hiring data, Plaintiff argues that the
Court improperly excluded data on the number of females
serving as managers in GOC at the time of Plaintiff's
adverse hiring decision. While the Court allowed Plaintiff to
show how many females were senior managers in GOC (the open
position for which Plaintiff was denied the promotion), the
Court did not permit Plaintiff to show how many females
served as managers and in other positions in GOC in 2013.
Tronsor, the Managing Director for GOC in 2013, would have
been aware of the data and the disparity in females serving
in management throughout GOC. Plaintiff contends that the
evidence would have been relevant circumstantial proof to
establish Tronsor's discriminatory motive.
the Doyle testimony, Plaintiff argues that the exclusion of
certain portions of her testimony denied the jury an
opportunity to hear evidence about Paul Tronsor's
influence on the hiring process. The Court did not allow
Doyle to testify about her own experience in conducting
hiring processes with Tronsor because Doyle had never used
the system (known as SMSS) utilized in Plaintiff's
promotions process. But Plaintiff's proffer showed that
the old system was similar in most respects to the SMSS
system. According to Plaintiff, Doyle would have testified
about how Tronsor could influence the process and shape the
outcome of the hiring decision using the old system. The
Court also did not allow Doyle to testify about inappropriate
comments made by Tronsor in another hiring situation, a
comment which Plaintiff believes would tend to show
Tronsor's gender bias. Plaintiff argues then that these
evidentiary rulings were erroneous and that the rulings
entitle her to a new trial.
Rule 59, after a jury trial, a court may grant a new trial
“for any of the reasons for which new trials have
heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of
the United States.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). A new trial is
appropriate when the jury reaches a seriously erroneous
result as evidenced by (1) the verdict being against the
clear weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being
excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party
in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by
prejudice or bias. Cummins v. BIC USA, Inc., 727
F.3d 506, 509-10 (6th Cir. 2013) (citing Static Control
Components, Inc. v. Lexmark Int'l, Inc., 697 F.3d
387, 414 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and
brackets omitted). Furthermore, “a motion for a new
trial will not be granted unless the moving party suffered
prejudice.” Tompkin v. Philip Morris USA,
Inc., 362 F.3d 882, 891 (6th Cir. 2004). In this regard
the party seeking a new trial has the burden to show harmful
prejudice. Simmons v. Napier, 626 F. App'x 129,
132 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Tobin v. Astra Pharm. Prods.,
Inc., 993 F.2d 528, 541 (6th Cir. 1993)). The Sixth
Circuit has explained that “the governing principle in
the district court's consideration of a motion for a new
trial is whether, in the judgment of the trial judge, such
course is required in order to prevent an injustice . . .
.” Park W. Galleries, Inc. v. Hochman, 692
F.3d 539, 544 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Davis by Davis v.
Jellico Cmty. Hosp. Inc., 912 F.2d 129, 133 (6th Cir.
1990) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The party seeking
a new trial bears “a heavy burden.” Miller v.
Am. President Lines, Ltd., 989 F.2d 1450, 1466 (6th Cir.
has raised two discrete issues in support of her Motion for a
New Trial, both related to the Court's evidentiary
rulings. Motions for new trial based on an erroneous
evidentiary ruling require the Court to evaluate the
evidentiary ruling under an abuse-of-discretion standard.
Cummins, 727 F.3d at 510 (citing United States
v. Morales, 687 F.3d 697, 701-02 (6th Cir. 2012)). A
district court abuses its discretion by relying on clearly
erroneous findings of fact, improperly applying the law, or
using an erroneous legal standard. Id. However, it
is not enough for the party moving for a new trial to
demonstrate a mistake in admitting or excluding evidence.
Kendel v. Local 17-A United Food & Commercial
Workers, 512 F. App'x 472, 479 (6th Cir. 2013). The
moving party must show that the evidentiary error
“amounted to more than harmless error.” Field
v. Trigg Cty. Hosp., Inc., 386 F.3d 729, 736 (6th Cir.
2004). An erroneous evidentiary ruling will justify a new
trial only if it was not harmless and affected the outcome of
the proceedings. Cummins, 727 F.3d at 510 (citations
Court holds that Plaintiff has not carried her heavy burden
to show a new trial is required to prevent an injustice in
this case. First, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the
exclusion of the proof about the Manager Affirmative Action
Plan (“MGRAAP”) underutilization screen was
error, much less that the ruling had an effect on the
verdict. Plaintiff argues the Court improperly
“excluded critical data regarding the demographics of
GOC Managers after Plaintiff was rejected for the 2013 GOC
Senior Manager position on Exhibit 71, the MGRAAP
underutilization screen from November 6, 2013.” But as
the Court explained at trial, the proof about the overall
composition of GOC posed a risk of confusing the jury.
“[T]he exclusion of evidence may be appropriate when
the evidence suggests to the jury that it should decide the
case on an improper basis.” Journey Acquisition-II,
L.P. v. EQT Prod. Co., 830 F.3d 444, 460 (6th Cir. 2016)
(citing United States v. Poulsen, 655 F.3d 492, 509
(6th Cir. 2011)). The Court continues to hold that the
additional proof from the MGRAAP screen was not relevant but
would have suggested to the jury that all hiring and staffing
decisions in the GOC had relevance to the decision to deny
Plaintiff the senior manager GOC position in 2013.
the Court's ruling was error, Plaintiff has not shown
that the error was anything more than harmless. Plaintiff
acknowledges that the Court allowed proof about the
composition of the GOC senior manager staff in 2013.
Plaintiff also presented evidence about Fed Ex's
affirmative action goals and policies and specifically
Tronsor's duty to review the MGRAAP screen as part of
Plaintiff's promotional process. Viewed alongside this
additional proof, Plaintiff has not shown that the exclusion
of the MGRAAP evidence about the overall composition of GOC
“more probabl[y] than not” had a “material[
]” effect on the verdict. Id. Therefore, the
Motion for New Trial is DENIED as to this issue.
Plaintiff has not shown that the exclusion of portions of
Doyle's testimony about the internal hiring process was
error. Plaintiff made a proffer of Doyle's testimony
about the hiring process utilized in the selection of GOC
managers. But as Doyle testified, she had no personal
knowledge of the SMSS process used in Plaintiff's bid for
the senior manager position. In fact, the proof showed that
Tronsor used the SMSS system for the first time in
Plaintiff's promotions process. Plaintiff now contends
that the two hiring plans were sufficiently similar and that
the Court should have allowed Doyle to testify about
Tronsor's ability to influence the outcomes of the
process. The jury, however, heard a great deal of testimony
about the SMSS process and Tronsor's role in
Plaintiff's bid for promotion. The Court cannot find
under a balance of the probabilities that the exclusion of
proof about Tronsor's role in separate and unrelated
hiring decisions under a distinct though similar process had
a material effect on the verdict. Id.
same reasons, Plaintiff has not shown that the exclusion of
Doyle's testimony about Tronsor's remark about
another female applicant being “cute” was error.
Doyle testified that Tronsor made the comment about Debi
Minnick in the context of another hiring decision at another
time. The Court finds no reason to conclude that its
exclusion of this testimony was erroneous or impacted the
outcome of the trial. The comment was isolated and unrelated
in any way to ...