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Patz v. Sureway Supermarket

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 30, 2019

VIVIAN PATZ, ET AL., Plaintiffs
v.
SUREWAY SUPERMARKET, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial, filed by Plaintiff Vivian Patz under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] Defendant Walter H. Maples, Inc. (“Maples”) opposes.[2] For the reasons that follow, Vivian Patz's motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Vivian and Michael Patz were employees of Maples, doing business as Sureway Supermarket.[3] Maples fired Plaintiffs.[4] On April 14, 2017, Plaintiffs filed suit against Maples; SHH Properties, LLC; and Shelly Jambon.[5] On April 19, 2018, Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint.[6] At issue in this motion are the following claims brought by Vivian Patz against Maples[7] for employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy: Count 1, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“Title VII”);[8] Count 2, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”);[9] and Count 5, under the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (“LEDL”).[10]

         The Court held a jury trial in this case from January 28, 2019 to January 31, 2019.[11]On January 30, 2019, Vivian Patz moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on Count 1, her Title VII claim, arguing Maples limited her in a way that deprived her of employment opportunities when it sent her home mid-shift without pay.[12] Vivian Patz moved for judgment as a matter of law on Count 2, her ADA claim, arguing (1) Maples sent her home without pay, an adverse employment action, because of her pregnancy, which was a disability; (2) Maples did not engage in an interactive process to determine whether the Vivian Patz needed accommodations; and (3) Maples failed to accommodate her disability.[13] The Court denied Vivian Patz's Rule 50(a) motions.[14]

         The jury returned a verdict in this case on January 31, 2019.[15] On Counts 1 and 5, Vivian Patz's Title VII and LEDL claims against Maples, the jury found for Maples and against Vivian Patz, specifically finding (1) Vivian Patz had not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that she would not have been terminated by Maples but for her pregnancy, (2) Vivian Patz's pregnancy was not a motivating factor in Maples' termination decision; (3) Maples did not limit its employees “in a way that deprived Vivian Patz of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affected her status as an employee because of her pregnancy or related medical condition”; and (4) Maples did not fail to make a reasonable accommodation after a request by Vivian Patz.[16] On Count 2, Vivian Patz's ADA claim against Maples, the jury found for Maples and against Vivian Patz, specifically finding (1) Maples did not terminate Vivian Patz “because of her disability, or because she was regarded as having an impairment, or because [Maples] had a record of her having a disability, ” and (2) Maples was not on notice of Vivian Patz's disability and Maples did not fail to make a reasonable accommodation after a request by Vivian Patz.[17] On February 1, 2019, the Court entered judgment in favor of Maples and against Vivian Patz.[18]

         Vivian Patz filed the instant motion under Rule 50(b) on February 28, 2019, [19]within the 28 days of entry of judgment required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). On May 20, 2019, Vivian Patz refiled the motion with citations to the trial transcript.[20] Maples opposes.[21]

         RULE 50(b) STANDARD

          Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), 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. No. later than 28 days after the entry of judgment--or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged--the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59. In ruling on the renewed motion, the court may:
(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict;
(2) order a new trial; or
(3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.[22]

         “A party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law ‘only if the evidence points but one way and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences which may support the opposing party's position.'”[23] The Court does not “weigh evidence, judge witness credibility, or challenge the factual conclusions of the jury. Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate if there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a claim under the controlling law.”[24]

         ANALYSIS

         I. Vivian Patz is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her Title VII and LEDL claims.

         In the instant motion, Vivian Patz argues she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her Title VII claim because Maples sent her home mid-shift without pay because of her pregnancy.[25] She does not argue she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law that Maples' firing her was discriminatory.[26] Vivian Patz states that, at trial, Jambon testified Vivian Patz told her on April 11, 2016, before she was sent home, that (1) she may be pregnant, (2) she had a history of miscarriages, (3) she could not lift more than ten pounds, and (4) she felt sick.[27] Vivian Patz also cites a note recounting the conversation between Vivian Patz and Jambon written by Maples employee Denise Esponge, which stated, “Said she could not lift anything over 10 lbs because she was pregnant. Asked for a doctor's excuse-has not seen a doctor. Told her to go see one and bring excuse back.”[28] Vivian Patz argues that, because only one of the four reasons given by Jambon was not “explicitly pregnancy related, ” Patz has established as a matter of law that her pregnancy was “at least a motivating factor” in Jambon's decision to send her home.[29]

         At trial, Jambon gave the following testimony about Vivian Patz's conversation with her on April 11, 2016:

She said she didn't know if she was pregnant or not, and she didn't -- and in her last pregnancy she couldn't lift ten pounds. That was the gist of the conversation. So, I asked her to go home and get a note and find out if she was or wasn't pregnant.
It wouldn't have mattered if she was pregnant or not. It would just mean she had to come back with a note so that I would know what she could and couldn't do, but if we don't even know what's wrong, how am I supposed to know what we can and cannot do?[30]

         When asked about why she asked Vivian Patz for a doctor's note, Jambon responded:

A. I was asking her to bring a note saying she could come back to work. It wasn't saying whether there was limitations or not limitations. It was just -- that way it's the doctor saying that it's okay for her to come back to work.
It wasn't that it had to have any limitations at all. She might have been cleared to come back to work with none. She was just self-diagnosing herself.
Q. You did not ask her for a doctor's note that explained any limitations that she had?
A. I asked her for a doctor's note to come back to work.[31]

         Based on this testimony, a reasonable jury could have believed that Jambon's reason for sending Vivian Patz home without pay was because Vivian Patz felt sick and had not seen a doctor, not because Vivian Patz was pregnant. As a result, the Court finds Vivian Patz is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her Title VII claim on the basis that she was sent home without pay because of her pregnancy.

         Vivian Patz also moves for judgment as a matter of law on her LEDL claim.[32] “The Louisiana jurisprudence has reviewed such claims following the analysis set forth in federal cases for discrimination under Title VII.”[33] Because Vivian Patz has not shown she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her Title VII claim, she has not shown she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her LEDL claim. The Court also notes Vivian Patz did not move for judgment as a matter of law on her LEDL claim at trial under Rule 50(a).

         II. Vivian Patz is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law that Defendants discriminated against her because they regarded her as having an impairment.

         Vivian Patz argues she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her ADA claim against Maples because (1) she was a qualified individual under the ADA, (2) Maples regarded her as having an impairment, and (3) there was a “nexus” between the adverse employment actions and her impairment.[34] In connection with the third prong, the nexus between the adverse employment actions and her impairment, Vivian Patz argues she “suffered two adverse employment[] actions: first, she was sent home mid-shift on April 11, 2016 and taken off the schedule, and second, she was terminated on April 15, 2016.”[35]

         In her Second Amended Complaint, Vivian Patz brought an ADA claim only for denial of reasonable accommodations.[36] The Second Amended Complaint did not include a claim for discrimination by termination or by being sent home mid-shift without pay.[37]

         The scope of Vivian Patz's claims was expanded in the pretrial order, in which the parties state:

Vivian Patz alleges she requested a reasonable accommodation from Defendants, and was denied the accommodation without explanation. She further alleges, the accommodations she sought were not an undue burden on Defendants. Additionally, she alleges her termination on the basis of her pregnancy-related disability is proscribed discrimination under the ADA.[38]

         The Fifth Circuit has held “[t]he pre-trial order supersedes the pleadings and becomes the governing pattern of the lawsuit.”[39] As a result, the pretrial order expanded the pleadings to include a claim under the ADA for discriminatory termination, but not for discrimination in connection with Maples' sending Vivian Patz home without pay.

         This is confirmed by the jury instructions and jury verdict form in this case.[40] The jury instructions provided:

37. Plaintiff Vivian Patz claims that:
A. Defendant Sureway Supermarket discriminated against her because she had a disability by terminating because of her pregnancy-related physical limitations;
B. Defendant Sureway Supermarket discriminated against her because it regarded her as having an impairment, specifically of having a pregnancy which limited her ability to lift over ten pounds; and
C. Defendant Sureway Supermarket failed to reasonably accommodate her disability, specifically her pregnancy which limited her ...

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