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Collins v. Alco Parking Corp.

May 22, 2006

JOHN M. COLLINS, APPELLANT
v.
ALCO PARKING CORPORATION



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 03-cv-1762) District Court Judge: Hon. Gary L. Lancaster.

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

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) March 28, 2006

Before: RENDELL, SMITH and BECKER*fn1 , Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

John M. Collins filed suit against Alco Parking Corporation ("Alco"), alleging that the company fired him because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Alco, and the District Court entered final judgment accordingly. Collins now appeals from that order. The appeal raises a number of interesting questions about the application of the doctrine of plain error under this Court's jurisprudence, and we take this opportunity to explicate them. We will affirm.

I.

Collins worked for Alco Parking Corporation for nine years, first as a part-time attendant and then as a full-time Lot Manager. This case revolves around an incident in which a customer, John Miller, was overcharged by one of the company's employees. Miller parked two cars in the lot.

Although the fixed rate was $20.00 per car, Miller paid $50.00 per car. The next day, he called the company to complain of the overcharge.

At trial, the parties presented dramatically different accounts of what happened next. Alco claimed that Collins confessed to having taken the extra money and that this was the reason for his termination. Four employees testified that they heard Collins' confession.

Collins denied making a confession and presented evidence purporting to prove that he was not and could not have been the employee of whom Miller complained. Specifically, Collins asserted that on the day in question he was working inside the lot, where he directed traffic and kept count of spaces. According to Collins, any customer who obtained parking in the lot would have first encountered two other employees: the "flag man," whose job was to direct customers from the street into the lot; and the "cash man," who sat in the booth, collected fees and let customers through the gate. Under this arrangement, Collins insists, he would only have interacted with a customer, if at all, after the customer had already paid his fees.

Collins identified several additional problems with the company's story. Miller said he was overcharged by a "white/gray haired man wearing a parking jacket," but this description fit the flag man and the cash man as well as Collins. Moreover, Collins alleged, the flag man had been disciplined in the past for soliciting extra money from customers, and the cash man turned in a false report of the payments made on the day in question. Collins, in contrast, had never been the subject of a complaint during his nine years of work; nor had he ever been disciplined for violating company policies. Collins further alleged that Alco knew that he was not responsible for the overcharge, and that the company fired him anyway because the employee at fault was hard to discipline due to his union membership.

The jury rendered a verdict for Alco, and the District Court entered judgment accordingly. Collins raises two issues on appeal: the District Court's instruction concerning the availability of attorney fees, and the District Court's instruction on pretext.

II.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 51(c), "A party who objects to an instruction or the failure to give an instruction must do so on the record, stating distinctly the matter objected to and the grounds of the objection." "Where a party properly objects to a jury instruction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 51, we exercise plenary review to determine whether the instruction misstated the applicable law." Franklin Prescriptions, Inc. v. New York Times Co., 424 F.3d 336, 338-39 (3d Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). "Where a party fails to ...


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