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Jackson v. City of Hot Springs

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 12, 2014

Wayne Jackson, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
City of Hot Springs, Defendant - Appellant, Larry Merriman, Defendant; Wayne Jackson, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
City of Hot Springs, Defendant - Appellee, Larry Merriman, Defendant

Submitted March 12, 2014.

Page 856

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 857

Appeals from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Hot Springs.

For Wayne Jackson, Plaintiff - Appellee (13-1772): Lucien Ramseur Gillham, Luther Oneal Sutter, Sutter & Gillham, Benton, AR.

For City of Hot Springs, Defendant - Appellant (13-1772): Brian Wade Albright, Hot Springs, AR; Mary Robin Casteel, John Lennon Wilkerson, Arkansas Municipal League, North Little Rock, AR.

For Wayne Jackson, Plaintiff - Appellant (13-1875): Lucien Ramseur Gillham, Luther Oneal Sutter, Sutter & Gillham, Benton, AR.

For City of Hot Springs, Defendant - Appellee (13-1875): Brian Wade Albright, Hot Springs, AR; Mary Robin Casteel, John Lennon Wilkerson, Arkansas Municipal League, North Little Rock, AR.

Before WOLLMAN, MURPHY, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

Wayne Jackson brought this lawsuit against the City of Hot Springs, Arkansas (" Hot Springs" ), alleging claims under the Family Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (" § 504" ), and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (" ACRA" ). The district court granted Hot Springs's motion for judgment as a matter of law on Jackson's § 504 and ACRA disability-discrimination claims. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Jackson on his FMLA and ACRA retaliation claims, awarding him lost wages and emotional-distress damages.[1] Hot Springs appeals the denial of its motion for judgment as a matter of law on Jackson's FMLA claim. Jackson cross-appeals the district court's grant of judgment as a matter of law on his ACRA disability-discrimination claim, its vacatur of the emotional-distress damages, and its denial of liquidated damages on his FMLA retaliation claim. For the reasons explained below, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. Background

Hot Springs hired Jackson as a maintenance technician trainee in the welding and fabrication shop in August 2001. In 2005, he was promoted to welder/machinist in the wastewater lift stations department. On January 18, 2010, Jackson was hospitalized and underwent surgery due to complications with his gallbladder and pancreas. While he recovered, Jackson used his accrued paid sick leave. Jackson exhausted this accrued leave by March 29, 2010. He then requested leave pursuant to the FMLA, and Hot Springs granted this request. Jackson's FMLA leave was set to expire on June 18, 2010. Hot Springs notified Jackson that " [i]f you are still unable to return to work as of June 21, 2010, (as stated in employee handbook), you have the option of requesting a period of leave without pay. Otherwise, your employment

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shall be terminated as of June 21, 2010." Per Hot Springs's policy, additional leave without pay could not exceed sixty days and had to be approved by both Larry Merriman, Jackson's ultimate supervisor, and the city manager. Jackson requested thirty days of additional leave. Merriman discussed Jackson's request with Randy Davis, Jackson's immediate supervisor. During the conversation, Merriman told Davis that Merriman believed that Jackson's request for additional leave was a ploy to prolong his insurance until he could get disability. Merriman and the city manager ultimately granted Jackson's request. However, Merriman instructed the human resources department that Jackson must return to full duty on July 19, 2010 because Jackson " has been off for his illness since~1/18/10, [and] we have attempted to accommodate the absence but the additional work load has caused overtime and other issues we can no longer deal with." Jackson was unable to return to work on July 19, 2010, and therefore, Hot Springs terminated his employment.

On August 31, 2010, Jackson's doctor released Jackson to work " with activity as tolerated." Jackson called Davis to tell him about the release. Jackson, Davis, and two other city employees went to Merriman's office to talk to him about reinstating Jackson. Merriman said that Jackson would have to reapply for his job and go through the proper procedures to be rehired. Jackson applied for his prior position in September after the job was posted publicly. Davis and Buddy Ashley, with whom the new hire would be working, selected Jackson and two other candidates to interview. While Merriman was out of town, Davis and two other employees conducted the interviews in the shop so the interviewees could see the equipment and because Davis " wanted to know what they could do." Out of the three interviewees, Jackson received the highest rating because Davis concluded that " he could do all the machines [and] he could handle the workload that was there." Davis informed Hot Springs's human resources department that he recommended that Merriman rehire Jackson. Minnie Lenox, an employee in the human resources department, emailed Merriman the recommendation. On October 1, Merriman replied: " I think it is a mistake, however, I will not micro manage. I will simply hold them accountable for the decision."

However, Merriman did not follow Davis's recommendation to rehire Jackson. Merriman concluded that the proper interview procedure had not been followed because Mike Foshee, the department's safety coordinator, did not participate in the interviews. Davis maintains that Merriman never told him that Foshee had to participate in the interviews. Even though Merriman told Foshee that the interviews would be conducted again, the interviews were not reconducted. No one was hired until the job was reposted in January 2011. Although Jackson reapplied then, he was not chosen for an interview. Merriman alleges that Jackson was not selected this time because other candidates had a skill set better suited for ...


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