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Bull v. United Parcel Service, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 1, 2014

LAUREEN BULL, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

OPINION ON POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

In this employment discrimination brought pursuant to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-1 to 10:5-49, a jury reached a verdict in Defendant's favor following a five-day trial. Thereafter, both parties filed motions for post-trial relief. I will deny the pending motions and enter Judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In April 2007, Ms. Bull filed this suit asserting various discrimination claims under the LAD, as well as retaliation claims, in the Superior Court of New Jersey. UPS removed the case to this Court in May 2007. Then-District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh[1] convened a jury trial in March 2010. On the third day of trial, Ms. Bull, on the witness stand, revealed that she possessed at home the original of a key document (a doctor's note dated June 13, 2006), which was requested by UPS in discovery but never produced. As a sanction, Judge Cavanaugh declared a mistrial and dismissed Ms. Bull's claims. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the sanction of dismissal was not justified, and remanded the matter. [ECF No. 72]. The case was reassigned to me. On remand, no party pressed the issue of sanctions.

I convened a second jury trial in November 2013. The parties presented evidence for five days, after which I charged the jury to render a verdict as to the two remaining counts:

- Count One: Disability Discrimination (LAD)
- Count Two: Retaliation for Filing a Worker's Compensation Claim.

The jury was instructed on the pertinent law concerning those two counts. The parties did not express any objection to the contents of the jury charge as delivered following the charge conference, and they do not challenge the jury instructions in this motion.

Plaintiff did, however, voice an objection to the wording of certain interrogatories on the jury verdict sheet, as well as the order in which certain interrogatories were asked. The interrogatories were posed to and answered by the jury as follows:

Count 1 (Disability Discrimination)
We, the jury, find that Plaintiff Laureen Bull has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence that:
1. Ms. Bull suffered from a disability as a result of her injury. (No finding necessary, as parties agreed)
2. Ms. Bull was actually performing her job prior to April 4, 2006; ___x___YES NO (Jury answered YES).
3. Ms. Bull was terminated by United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS); ___YES ___x___NO (Jury answered NO).
4. In terminating Ms. Bull, UPS discriminated on the basis of her disability. ___YES___x___NO (Jury answered NO).
5. Ms. Bull was able to perform the essential functions of her job, either with or without a reasonable accommodation; ___x___YES___NO (Jury answered YES).
6. UPS was aware that Ms. Bull needed a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential functions of her job; ___x___YES___ NO (Jury answered YES).
7. At the time Ms. Bull was fired, a reasonable accommodation existed that would have allowed her to perform the essential functions of her job; ___x___YES___ NO (Jury answered YES).

8. UPS wrongfully did not make such a reasonable accommodation; ___x___YES___ NO (Jury answered YES).

If YES to ALL of the above (1 through 8), continue to number 9.
If NO to ANY of the above, you have FOUND IN FAVOR OF UPS on Count 1, and must skip to Count 2.
We, the jury, find that UPS has established, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that:
9. Prior to terminating Ms. Bull, UPS arrived at the conclusion, based on factual or scientific evidence, that employing Ms. Bull even with a reasonable accommodation would have materially increased the risk of serious harm to Ms. Bull and/or her fellow employees. ___YES___ NO (Jury did not reach this question).

If YES to number 9, you have FOUND IN FAVOR OF UPS on Count 1, and should continue to Count 2.

If NO to number 9, you have FOUND IN FAVOR OF MS. BULL on Count 1, and should continue to Count 2.
Count 2 (Retaliation for Filing Worker's Compensation Claim)
We, the jury, find that Plaintiff Laureen Bull has proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that:
1. UPS terminated her employment on April 4, 2006 because she made a workers' compensation claim and/or sought workers' compensation benefits. ___YES___x___NO (Jury answered NO).
If YES, then you have FOUND IN FAVOR OF MS. BULL on Count 2.
If NO, then you have FOUND IN FAVOR OF UPS on Count 2.

Plaintiff's objections at trial, like her current motions, pertain only to Count 1. The jury found against Plaintiff on Count 1 by virtue of its finding that UPS did not, as alleged, terminate Ms. Bull's employment and discriminate on the basis of disability. ( See Verdict sheet Interrogatories 3 and 4). Ms. Bull is clearly disappointed that the jury found that she was not terminated, contrary to her contention since the outset of this action. ( See Complaint at ¶ 92). She now contends, however, that the jury should never have been asked to make a separate finding as to whether she was terminated. Alternatively, she argues that the manner in which that question was posed misled the jury or misrepresented the legal import of such termination.

Accordingly, Ms. Bull seeks a new trial on the basis that the verdict sheet misled the jury as to the law, citing Rule 59. ( See Part I, infra). She also complains that the jury's answers to the interrogatories as posed were mutually inconsistent. Thus she also seeks a new trial pursuant to Rule 49. ( See Part II, infra). She appears to embed a motion for judgment as a matter of law within her Rule 49 motion; that motion, which she does not elaborate on, I will deny summarily.

UPS renews the motion that it made for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Rule 50, that it made at the close of Ms. Bull's case. UPS contends that Ms. Bull's claims are preempted by the Labor Relations Management Act, because they pertain to a valid collective bargaining ...


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