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Presumey v. Town of Greenwich Board of Education

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 7, 2018

ELIZABETH PRESUMEY, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF GREENWICH BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          RULING ON POST-VERDICT MOTIONS

          Donna F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge.

         The plaintiff, Elisabeth Presumey, brought this employment discrimination action against the Board of Education for the Town of Greenwich, Connecticut, alleging that it failed to accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act ("CFEPA"), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-51 et seq. (Doc. #55.) After a day and half trial, a jury returned a verdict in the plaintiff's favor. The defendant challenges the jury's verdict as against the weight of the evidence and moves for judgment as a matter of law pursuant Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 or in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. (Doc. #74.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. Standard of Review

         A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 "is appropriate only if [the court] can conclude that, with credibility assessments made against the moving party and all inferences drawn against the moving party, a reasonable juror would have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party." Warren v. Pataki, 823 F.3d 125, 139 (2d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Brooks v. Pataki, __U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 380, 196 L.Ed.2d 300 (2016) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). "A Rule 50 motion may only be granted if 'there exists such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or the evidence in favor of the movant is so overwhelming that reasonable and fair minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [it].'" Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)

         B. Motion for a New Trial

         "A less stringent standard applies to a motion for a new trial." Katara v. D.E. Jones Commodities, Inc., 835 F.2d 966, 970 (2d Cir. 1987). "When a party challenges a verdict under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 on the ground that it was against the weight of the evidence, a court may grant the motion only if 'the verdict is (1) seriously erroneous or (2) a miscarriage of justice.'" Nielsen v. Van Leuven, 3:15cv1154(MPS), 2018 WL 488218, at *2 (D. Conn. 2018) (quoting Raedle v. Credit Agricole IndoSuez, 670 F.3d 411, 418 (2d Cir. 2012)). On a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, "the court may weigh the evidence and the credibility of witnesses and need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner." ING Global v. United Parcel Serv. Oasis Supply Corp., 757 F.3d 92, 99 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, trial judges "must exercise their ability to weigh credibility with caution and great restraint, as a judge should rarely disturb a jury's evaluation of a witness's credibility, and may not freely substitute his or her assessment of the credibility of witnesses for that of the jury simply because the judge disagrees with the jury." Raedle v. Credit Agricole IndoSuez, 670 F.3d 411, 418 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also ING Global, 757 F.3d at 99 ("[A] high degree of deference is accorded to the jury's evaluation of witness credibility, and . . . jury verdicts should be disturbed with great infrequency."); 11 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2806 (3rd ed. 2012)("The mere fact that the evidence is in conflict is not enough to set aside the verdict. Indeed the more sharply the evidence conflicts, the more reluctant the judge should be to substitute his judgment for that of the jury.")

         Because the standard for a new trial is less stringent than for judgment as a matter of law, "[c]ourts address a new trial first when it is based on the same issue as the motion for judgment as a matter of law because evidence sufficient to withstand a new trial challenge will be sufficient to withstand a motion for judgment as a matter of law." Wilhite v. Shelby Cty. Gov't, No. 13-2143, 2015 WL 11017959, at *8 (W.D. Tenn. Dec. 28, 2015) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         II. Background

         From 2008 until 2012, the plaintiff was employed by the defendant as a professional assistant working with special education students. In November 2011, the plaintiff injured her left shoulder at work. She requested that she be put on "light duty" pursuant to her physician's instructions. The defendant responded that there was no light duty work assignment in that job class and ultimately terminated the plaintiff's employment on the grounds that she "ha[s] medical restrictions rendering [her] unable to perform the core functions of [her] job." (Pl's Ex. 36 Termination letter.) The plaintiff brought suit, alleging that the defendant failed to provide her a reasonable accommodation for her disability.

         "Discrimination in violation of the ADA includes, inter alia, not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability." Sheng v. M&TBank Corp., 848 F.3d 78, 86 (2d Cir. 2017). To prevail on her failure-to-accommodate claim, the plaintiff was required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:

(1) [her] employer is subject to the ADA; (2) [she] was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (3) [she] was otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of [her] job, with or without reasonable accommodation;[1] and (4) [she] suffered adverse employment action because of [her] disability.[2]

McMillan v. City of New York, 711 F.3d 120, 125 (2d Cir. 2013).

         The defendant stipulated to the first and fourth factors but contested the second and third factors. At trial, as here, the parties focused on the third element and specifically the essential functions of a professional assistant. As to this, the defendant argued that lifting, toileting and feeding students with special needs are essential functions of the job that the plaintiff could not perform. From this premise, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff was not qualified to perform the essential functions of her job, with or without reasonable accommodation. The plaintiff agreed that she could not perform these functions but claimed that they were not essential functions within the meaning of the statute and that she could perform her job with reasonable accommodation, that is, light duty. The jury agreed, finding that the plaintiff had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) as to ...


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