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Lansdale v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 23, 2019

MICHAEL L. LANSDALE, Plaintiff,
v.
UPS SUPPLY CHAIN SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendant.

          THOMAS E. GLENNON, THOMAS E. GLENNON, P.A., FOR PLAINTIFF.

          DONALD M. LEWIS AND SARAH B. C. RISKIN, NILAN JOHNSON LEWIS PA, FOR DEFENDANT.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Plaintiff Michael Lansdale brings a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and a motion for a new trial, or in the alternative, to amend the judgment. Because the Court finds that sufficient evidence supports the jury's verdict and that a new trial is not warranted, the Court will deny Lansdale's motions.

         BACKGROUND

         Lansdale was a Region Sales Manager who worked for Defendant UPS Supply Chain Solutions (“UPS”). (Mem. Op. and Order at 2, Aug. 17, 2018, Docket No. 237.) The position required him to travel nearly every week of the year. (Id.) It also required him to use a corporate credit card for expenses incurred during that travel. Lansdale's usage of the corporate credit card was governed by several UPS policies, which prohibited Lansdale from using the credit card for personal purchases. (Id. at 3.)

         After an internal UPS audit revealed inconsistences in Lansdale's credit card use and Lansdale's credit card expense reports, UPS began an internal investigation, led by Security Investigator Erika Faifer. (Id.) UPS believed that Lansdale was using his corporate card for personal purchases. (Id.) When asked why an employee might do this, UPS's Director of Human resources Angie Brewer noted that, in her experience with employees who used their corporate cards for personal purchases, it was often to cover up an affair or a drinking problem. (Id.)

         Faifer eventually compiled a report which noted several questionable expenses and submitted the report to her supervisor and a Human Resources manager named Herman Gonzales. (Id. at 4.) Faifer's report also noted significant inconsistences between Lansdale's purchases and the monthly expense reports he submitted to his own supervisor. (Id.) After reviewing the report and relevant receipts, UPS's investigation team came to believe that Lansdale was using his corporate card for personal purchases and then covering it up on his expense reports. (Id.) Both were against UPS policy. (Id.)

         In furtherance of the investigation, and to determine whether UPS would take any action, Faifer and Gonzales interviewed Lansdale. (Id. at 5.) During this interview, Faifer and Gonzales asked a number of questions related to Lansdale's expense reports and his corporate card usage. (Id.) They also asked Lansdale whether he had a drinking problem and questions about his drinking in general. (Id.) Towards the conclusion of the interview, Lansdale wrote a statement acknowledging that he would sometimes use his corporate card to hide alcohol-related charges from his wife. (Id. at 6.) At that point, Gonzales left the room to speak with his managers about the interview and written statement. While Gonzales was gone, Faifer continued to talk with Lansdale, and the two discussed his drinking habits extensively. (Id. at 6-7.) The next day, UPS terminated Lansdale. (Id. at 8.)

         Lansdale thereafter brought this disability-discrimination action against UPS, alleging that UPS violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) in connection with his termination. At trial, he alleged that UPS impermissibly discriminated against him because of his disability and/or that UPS discriminated against him because it regarded him as disabled. He further alleged that, through the interview with Faifer and Gonzales, UPS violated the ADA by subjecting him to prohibited disability-related inquiries. UPS, on the other hand, argued that it did not discriminate against Lansdale because of a disability, did not regard him as having a disability, and did not engage in prohibited disability-related inquiries. Instead, UPS asserted that it terminated Lansdale because it believed that he violated UPS policies regarding corporate credit card use.

         After a trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of UPS on all counts. Lansdale then filed the present post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) and for a new trial. (Mot. for JMOL, Mar. 5, 2019, Docket No. 383.) In general, Lansdale argues that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that the Court made legal errors which substantially influenced the trial.

         DISCUSSION

         I. RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

         A. Standard of Review

          Under Rule 50(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court may resolve an issue as a matter of law if “a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” A party may renew a motion for judgment as a matter of law after trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). “A motion for judgment as a matter of law should be granted when all the evidence points one way and is susceptible of no reasonable inferences sustaining the position of the nonmoving party.” Hunt ex rel. Hunt v. Lincoln Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 317 F.3d 891, 893 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Neely v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 1127, 1129 (8th Cir. 1997)). In making this determination, the Court is to:

consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, assume that the jury resolved all conflicts of evidence in favor of that party, assume as true all facts which the prevailing party's evidence tended to prove, give the prevailing party the benefit of all favorable inferences which may reasonably be drawn from the facts, and deny the motion, if in light of the foregoing, reasonable jurors could differ as to the conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence.

Atlas Pile Driving Co. v. Dicon Fin. Co., 886 F.2d 986, 989 (8th Cir. 1989)). A motion for judgment as a matter of law should generally be denied unless the Court, keeping all these principles in mind, concludes that judgment cannot be entered on the jury verdict. Wahpeton Canvas Co., Inc. v. Frontier, Inc., 870 F.2d 1546, 1551 (Fed. Cir. 1989) (applying Eighth Circuit law).

         Lansdale asserts that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on both his disability-related inquiries claim and his disability discrimination claims.

         B. Disability-Related Inquiries

         Under the ADA, an employer “shall not make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(4)(A). The ADA's provisions prohibiting employers from making disability-related inquiries extend to all employees, irrespective of whether they have a disability. Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 527 (8th Cir. 2007). However, to sustain a claim, the employee must show that the prohibited inquiries caused a tangible injury. Cosette v. Minn. Power & Light, 188 F.3d 964, 970 (8th Cir. 1999).

         Lansdale's disability-related inquiries claim was based mostly on the interview conducted by Faifer and Gonzales. He contended at trial that Faifer and Gonzales asked him impermissible disability-related questions and that he was fired based on his responses. At trial, it was established that Gonzales and Faifer jointly asked Lansdale several questions about his drinking habits. UPS submitted evidence that, after this discussion, Lansdale wrote and signed a statement acknowledging that he used his corporate card for personal charges in order to hide his alcohol consumption from his wife. It was further established that, as Gonzales was in a different room speaking with management, Faifer and Lansdale spoke extensively about Lansdale's drinking habits and how his drinking affected his health and family. Finally, it was established that Lansdale was informed of his termination the morning after the interviews.

         Lansdale argues that, considering the above evidence, the jury's verdict on this claim was contrary to the evidence because it was shown that UPS engaged in prohibited inquiries, that the inquires led to his termination, and that the inquiries were not job-related or consistent with business necessity.

         To overturn the jury's verdict, the Court must find that a jury would not have a legally sufficient basis to find for UPS, considering all evidence in a light most favorable to UPS and affording UPS the benefit of all favorable inferences which may reasonably be drawn from the facts. The Court cannot make such a finding. The jury had a sufficient evidentiary basis to find that, even if the questions posed to Lansdale were disability-related inquiries, the inquiries did not cause his termination. Lansdale's written statement acknowledged that he used his corporate card for personal use, and the jury could have found that this admission by itself was the reason for his termination. Further, UPS submitted extensive evidence throughout the trial highlighting what the relevant UPS decisionmakers knew regarding Lansdale's corporate card use and the significant discrepancies between what Lansdale purchased with his corporate card and what his expense reports indicated. The relevant decisionmakers also testified that the decision to terminate Lansdale was not based on his interview and was made before the interview even occurred.

         Lansdale, on the other hand, submitted very little evidence that the prohibited inquires led to his termination. He relied at trial-and continues to rely-on the sequential nature of the events. He argues that because Gonzales and Faifer asked alcohol-related questions before calling UPS management, and Lansdale was afterwards terminated, his termination was due to these questions and answers. However, this argument is based purely on speculation and the jury was free to reject it. While the Court acknowledges that the sequence of events is questionable, the Court does not find that, considering the evidence presented by UPS, the jury did not have a legally sufficient basis on which to base its verdict. Accordingly, the Court will deny Lansdale's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law as to Lansdale's prohibited inquiries claim.

         C. ADA and MHRA ...


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