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Everhart v. Board of Education of Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 26, 2014

JON EVERHART Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.

Jon Everhart brought an employment discrimination suit against the Board of Education of Prince George's County (the "Board") under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000d et seq. He alleged retaliation and hostile work environment based on protected activity pertaining to race.

Following a jury trial on the merits of Everhart's case, the jury found for Everhart on his retaliation claim, and awarded $350, 000 in compensatory damages. The jury did not find for Everhart on his hostile work environment claim.

Despite winning the jury trial on his retaliation claim, Everhart has now filed a Motion for Partial New Trial Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a) (Paper No. 161), claiming that it was error for the Court to refuse to give a "mixed motive" jury instruction on the hostile work environment claim. The Board opposes the Motion.

The Court DENIES the Motion.

A.

During the Court's Charge Conference in which jury instructions were discussed, Everhart's counsel indicated that he wanted a "mixed motive instruction" for his retaliation and hostile work environment claims. The Court denied Everhart's request, stating that a mixed motive instruction was not appropriate with respect to either of these theories of recovery. On the record after the Court charged the jury, counsel for Everhart renewed his objection to the Court's decision not to give a mixed motive instruction to the jury for the hostile work environment claim. The Court overruled the objection.

The instruction that Everhart says should have been given is:

MIXED MOTIVE:
You have heard evidence that the defendant's decision to terminate Mr. Everhart was motivated by Mr. Everhart's race and also by other lawful reasons. If you find that Mr. Everhart's race was a motivating factor in the defendant's decision to take his action, Mr. Everhart is entitled to your verdict, even if you find that the defendant's conduct was also motivated by other lawful reasons.
However, if you find that the defendant's decision was motivated by both discriminatory and lawful reasons, you must decide whether Mr. Everhart is entitled to damages. Mr. Everhart is entitled to damages unless the defendant proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant would have made the same decision even if the discriminatory reason had played no role in the employment decision.

Modern Federal Jury Instructions, Volume 5 (Civil), Instruction 88-43, Mixed Motive.

B.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) provides that "[t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all of some of the issues... after a jury trial for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." A new trial is granted pursuant to Rule 59(a) if "(1) the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict." Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Atlas Food Systems & Services, Inc. v. Crane Nat'l Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996)). The decision to grant or deny a Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial rests "in the sound discretion of the trial judge." Wadsworth v. Clindon, 846 F.2d 265, 266 (4th Cir. 1988). Moreover, a ...


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