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Herster v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

March 27, 2017

MARGARET HERSTER AND SCOTT SULLIVAN
v.
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY, ETAL

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JAMES J. BRADY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion for a New That Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 filed by Plaintiff Margaret Herster ("Herster" or "Plaintiff').[1] The Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University ("LSU" or "Defendant") has filed an Opposition.[2] For the following reasons, the Motion shall be denied.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In this removal action, Herster asserted various Title VII and state law claims against herformer employer, LSU.[3] During the six day jury trial, the Court granted several of the Defendant's Rule 50 Motions resulting in the dismissal of Plaintiffs Title VII sexual harassment/hostile work environment claim, Title VII disparate pay claim based upon gender, benefits claim, and Louisiana state law whistleblower claims. On December 12, 2016, the jury returned a verdict finding in favor of the Defendant on Plaintiffs remaining Title VII retaliation claim and Title VII retaliatory harassment claim.[4] On December 14, 2016, the Court entered a Judgment in favor of the Defendant.[5]

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Rule 59 provides that after a jury trial, a "court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues ... for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court."[6] Although Rule 59(a) does not provide the specific grounds for new trial, the Fifth Circuit has clarified that a new thai may be warranted if "the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages awarded are excessive, the trial was unfair, or prejudicial error was committed in its course."[7]Ultimately, the decision whether to grant a new trial is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge, and "the court's authority is broad."[8]

         Herster requests that the Court grant a new trial for three reasons. First, Plaintiff asserts that certain evidentiary rulings made by the Court constituted plain error that prejudiced her. Although not plainly stated, it appears that Herster is challenging the Court's application of its pretrial Ruling[9] during trial, whereby she was prohibited from introducing evidence of gender discrimination and sexual harassment experienced by anyone but her at the LSU School of Art and offering any evidence of harassment committed by anyone but Rod Parker. In particular, Plaintiff challenges the inadmissibility and required redaction of certain information included in her original and amended Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Charge ("EEOC" Charge) and internal complaint to LSU's Human Resource Department, as well as the limitations placed upon her own testimony at trial. After reviewing the jurisprudence relied upon by Plaintiff, the Court finds that the cases do not support her position. Therefore, the Court maintains its earlier stance that Herster failed to show how evidence of harassment of others or by anyone other than Rod Parker was "more than tangentially related" to her own claims because she "did not set forth the particular facts supporting the alleged harassment of others;"[10]therefore, the exclusion of such evidence, including certain testimony, was proper. Furthermore, the Court agrees with the Defendant that the excluded content amounted to hearsay.

         Herster also contends that the Court erroneously excluded the introduction of 2003 criminal arrest records of Rod Parker ("Parker") or any related testimony at trial. The Court disagrees and finds the records and related testimony were properly excluded as unfairly prejudicial, substantially outweighing any probative value they may have had. Moreover, the record reflects that Herster was able to explore the extent of LSU's investigation of her complaints at trial through Jennifer Normand. To the extent Plaintiff sought to introduce these decade-old criminal arrest records as evidence of Parker's character to prove that he sexually harassed or discriminated against her, it would have been prohibited under Rule 404(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Hence, the Court finds it properly excluded the 2003 criminal arrest records and related testimony.

         Next Herster argues that the Court committed clear error and prejudiced her by refusing to provide a "Cat's Paw" jury instruction. The Court disagrees as Plaintiff failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact existed that would require such a jury instruction. The Plaintiff also contends that the Court erred in its response to a jury inquiry during deliberations. When asked, the Court instructed the jury that that the course fee issue could not be considered in deciding Plaintiffs Title VII retaliation claim. The Plaintiff has repeatedly attempted to blur all of her separate claims together as one; hence, the Court is not surprised that she is once again trying to do so here. Plaintiffs Title VII gender based retaliation claims and her state law whistleblower claims were separate and distinct claims. Because the Court had previously granted a Rule 50(a) Motion on Herster's whistleblower claims, the course fee issue had no bearing on her Title VII retaliation claims. Therefore, the Court finds that Herster is not entitled to a Motion for New Trial on these grounds.

         At the close of Plaintiffs case, the Defendant moved for Rule 50(a) dismissal on several of her claims after articulating their evidentiary deficiencies. The Court ultimately granted several of the Defendant's Motions. Herster now asserts that she is entitled to a new trial because the Court refused to allow her to cure the perceived evidentiary deficiencies prior to the dismissal of her claims.[11] Initially, the Court points out that Plaintiff never requested leave to reopen her case in order to present additional evidence to cure the evidentiary deficiencies identified in the Defendant's Motions. Additionally, the jurisprudence Plaintiff relies upon in support of her argument is also inapplicable here. This Court, unlike the district court under review in Echeverria v. Chevrvn USA Inc., [12] did not grant any of the Rule 50(a) Motions until Herster had rested or had been "fully heard" on her case.[13] As for the procedural issue requiring that a Rule 50(a) motion precede the filing of a Rule 50(b) motion discussed in Bohrer v. Hanes Corp.[14]it lends nothing to Herster's argument. Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff is not entitled to a new trial on this ground.

         IV. CONCLUSION

         For the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby DENIES Plaintiff Margaret Herster's Motion for New Trial.[15]

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