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Le v. University of Pennsylvania

March 04, 2003

TAI VAN LE, MR.
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION AND; STANLEY OPELLA, AN INDIVIDUAL TAI VAN LE, MR.
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION
TAI VAN LE, APPELLANT NO. 01-3638 TAI VAN LE, MR.
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION AND; STANLEY OPELLA, AN INDIVIDUAL
TAI VAN LE, MR.
v.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, A NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION THE TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, THE PROPER CORPORATE NAME OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT NO. 01-3759



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil Nos. 99-cv-01708 and 00-cv-00481) Magistrate Judge: The Honorable Jacob P. Hart

Before: Nygaard, Cowen, and MICHEL,*fn1 Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nygaard, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued October 29, 2002

OPINION OF THE COURT

In this appeal, Appellant and Cross-Appellee Tai Van Le alleges that the District Court erred on two points by denying his Motion for Reconsideration: (1) denying the Motion to Amend Judgment to Increase Back Pay and Include Front Pay, and (2) upholding the validity of the Rule 68 Offer of Judgment. On cross-appeal, Appellees and Cross-Appellants, The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, allege that the District Court erred by denying in part its Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs and denying its Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict on Punitive Damages. For the reasons discussed below, we will affirm the decision of the District Court.

I. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

We have jurisdiction over a final order of the District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. S 1291. The decision to deny a Motion for Reconsideration is within the discretion of the District Court, but "if the court's denial was based upon the interpretation and application of a legal precept, review is plenary." Koshatka v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., 762 F.2d 329, 333 (3d Cir. 1985). On cross-appeal, we also have plenary review over the decision to deny the Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. Ambrose v. Township of Robinson, 303 F.3d 488, 492 (3d Cir. 2002). However, because the jury determined the issue on both of these motions, "our scope of review is limited to examining whether there is sufficient evidence to support the verdict, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the verdict winner." Kelly v. Matlock, Inc., 903 F.2d 978, 981 (3d Cir. 1990). We have plenary review over both legal questions regarding the interpretation of Rule 68 and the construction of the offer of judgment. Public Interest Research Group v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1184 (3d Cir. 1994).

II. Discussion

The University of Pennsylvania hired Tai Van Le, a Vietnamese-born U.S. citizen, as an Electronics Technician in 1986. Le worked primarily on projects generated by the research group led by Dr. Stanley Opella and related to the design of sophisticated electronic devices for nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. This working arrangement continued harmoniously until late 1997, when Dr. Opella began expressing concern with the accuracy of Le's designs and Le began to feel that certain statements made in the laboratory were directed towards his national origin in a discriminatory manner. After reporting these comments to the University, Le was assigned a new supervisor and the University conducted an internal investigation that did not discover discrimination.

The situation did not improve from the perspective of either party and from September to early December 1998, Le took an extended sick leave. Upon his return, the University placed Le on probation for poor performance prior to his leave. Le was given several specific tasks to complete during the one month probationary period. He did not complete the assigned tasks and was terminated for poor performance in January 1999.

In April 1999, Le filed a pro se complaint alleging national origin discrimination against his employer, the University of Pennsylvania, and his supervisor, Dr. Stanley Opella. Le filed a second complaint in January 2000 against the same parties, this time alleging retaliation. On February 29, 2000, the defendants made an offer of judgment for $50,000 pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 68.*fn2 This offer was made jointly by the defendants on both of the then pending cases. Le rejected the offer and, after consolidation, the cases went to trial.

At the close of Le's evidence, the claims against Dr. Opella were dismissed pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 50. The remaining defendant, the University of Pennsylvania, presented its case and after deliberations, the jury returned a mixed verdict. The jury found for the University on Le's discrimination claim, but awarded Le $25,000 in compensatory damages and $10,000 in punitive damages as to the retaliation claim. In post-trial motions, the District Court denied Le's post-offer attorneys' fees under Rule 68 and granted the University's motion to shift its post-offer costs. However, the District Court denied the University's request for post-offer attorneys' fees, finding that such fees could only be awarded ...


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