HANCOCK, District Judge:
Fulton County, Georgia appeals final jury verdicts awarding separately to three plaintiffs, Chester L. Lambert, William E. Mowrey, and James M. Heath, back pay and $300,000 compensatory damages on their separate Title VII claims against Fulton County asserting that disparate discipline was administered to them by Fulton County because they are white. Robert J. Regus appeals final jury verdicts awarding separately to the three plaintiffs $50,000 compensatory damages and $225,000 punitive damages on their respective 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Regus asserting that Regus denied them their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and their rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Michael Cooper appeals final jury verdicts awarding separately to the three plaintiffs $50,000 compensatory damages and $225,000 punitive damages on their respective 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Cooper asserting that Cooper denied them their Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and their rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
Appellants Fulton County, Regus, and Cooper raise two common issues on appeal, sufficiency of the evidence to support each verdict and whether the district court erred in denying motions for a new trial. Appellants Regus and Cooper also raise two additional issues common to them, whether they were entitled to qualified immunity and whether the district court erred in denying their motions for judgment as a matter of law on the punitive damages claims or, alternatively, failing to
I. Factual Background
Appellants-Defendants are Fulton County, Georgia; Robert J. Regus, who at all relevant times was County Manager for Fulton County with supervisory authority over all employees of Fulton County; and Michael G. Cooper, who at all relevant times was Director of Fulton County's Department of Contract Compliance and Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO office") with responsibility for investigating discrimination complaints and recommending corrective action. Cooper reported directly to Regus. At all relevant times, Appellees-Plaintiffs Chester Lambert, William Mowrey and James Heath were all employees of Fulton County working at the Big Creek Water Treatment Facility. As discussed below, Appellees alleged that the Appellants unlawfully discriminated against them by disciplining them on the basis of their race (white). Regus is white; Cooper is black.
Appellee Lambert began his employment with Fulton County in 1975, and during 1995 and 1996, the relevant time frame for this case, he held the position of Civil Engineer III and was responsible for the North Fulton water system and maintenance. Appellee Mowrey began his employment with Fulton County in 1989 and in 1995 was Area Construction Supervisor, Operations Manager and was responsible for sewer lines in the South Fulton and North Fulton waste water treatment facilities. Appellee Heath began his employment with Fulton County in December of 1988, and in 1995 he became acting supervisor at Big Creek. By virtue of the positions they held, all Appellees were responsible for responding to employee complaints of racial harassment. In 1995, Lambert reported to Frank Bockman (the Deputy Director of the Department of Public Works), Mowrey reported to Lambert, and Heath reported to Mowrey.
The crux of Appellees' allegations is that race was a factor in the disciplining of Appellees for failing to effectively deal with a hostile work environment at Big Creek. The Appellees admitted at trial that a hostile work environment existed at Big Creek because of numerous racial incidents that occurred there in 1995 and 1996 which resulted in formal charges of discrimination being filed by two Big Creek employees on January 26, 1996 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC").
On May 3, 1996, Cooper submitted a revised report accusing six white employees, identified by race and name and including the three Appellees, of various policy violations including engaging in discrimination and allowing discrimination to continue in the Department of Public Works. Cooper's May 3 report recommended "immediate disciplinary action" but did not advocate that any particular individuals be disciplined. After "pains-takingly analyz[ing]" Cooper's May 3 report, Robert Regus, in a letter dated May 23, 1996, expressed concern that Cooper's "conclusions were not substantiated by facts, and efforts were not made to interview all persons who may have knowledge of the allegations." The May 23 letter also criticized Cooper's "conscious decision ... to selectively include certain facts while excluding other facts" including "steps taken by Mr. Bockman and others to respond to complaints of racial harassment at Big Creek." Regus also expressed concern that Cooper behaved in an "unprofessional, rude, accusatory [manner] and demonstrated personal bias" when asked to defend his report during a meeting held on May 15, 1996 between Cooper, Regus, Bockman, and the County Attorney. During the course of that meeting, Cooper told Bockman that "he was looking at [the situation] from a white man's perspective and that he (Bockman) should look at it from the perspective of a black man who has had to work for a white man all of his life." The May 23 letter criticized Cooper for being "emotionally involved" and issued an official warning and reprimand to Cooper concerning the performance of his duties. Cooper was directed to complete a course of training in investigation and report writing. Cooper admitted at trial that he left out certain relevant facts, including the Appellees' written statements detailing their efforts to stop the hostile environment at Big Creek.
From March until May of 1996, Bockman and Mozell Acey (black)
On May 13, 1996, Regus forwarded Cooper's May 3 report to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and stated that he had "reviewed" the memorandum with the County Attorney, but Regus did not comment on the substance of Cooper's report. Regus did not forward Bockman's report to the Board. Regus informed the Commissioners that the media had requested a copy of the report and that at 5:00 p.m. on May 13, Cooper's report would be released to Channel 2 in accordance with provisions of the Open Records Act. The Appellees were allowed to submit written responses to Cooper's final May 3 report. On May 17, 1996, Bockman forwarded to Regus responses from Mowrey, Heath, and Lambert in order to "make certain [Regus] was aware of [their] responses."
By letters from Regus dated May 16, 1996, Appellees were disciplined for failing
The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners testified that he told the media that any County supervisors who did not take action on the EEOC complaints should be fired. The Chairman testified that the Board was concerned about the media attention and pressured Regus to act on the charges. Cooper also spoke to the media on a television news program and informed the public that, "make no mistake about it," supervisors and managers would be disciplined. Regus issued a press release on May 17, 1996 that stated in pertinent part, "After receiving a report for Mr. Michael Cooper ... and after having received a response from Mr. Frank Bockman ..., I convened a meeting on May 15, 1996 . . . to discuss the allegations.... As a result of that meeting, I have taken steps to initiate disciplinary action against three supervisory employees in the Public Works Department."
Appellees alleged that Regus disciplined white individuals (Lambert, Mowrey, and Heath) in the chain of command while not disciplining black individuals (Curtis Brown and Mozell Acey). Appellants contend that the Appellees were due to be disciplined because they did not take all reasonable steps necessary to end the hostile environment at Big Creek and that Brown and Acey were not due to be disciplined because Brown was a sewer supervisor and was never in charge of the discrimination investigation at Big Creek and Acey was not in charge of the investigation nor responsible for the employees who work there.
After narrowing the claims down to the Title VII allegations against Fulton County and the Sections 1981 and 1983 claims against Regus and Cooper, the case was tried to a jury for two weeks. During the Appellees' case-in-chief, portions of a witness's deposition (Josh Kenyon) were read that had been objected-to by Appellants before the trial and excluded in a ruling in limine; Appellants again objected to the testimony and moved for a mistrial which the court denied. During Appellees' cross-examination of Regus, counsel for Appellees sought to introduce the criminal record of Arthur Glass (a witness) and openly provided opposing counsel with a copy of the record in the presence of the jury and before the court sustained Appellants' objection to its introduction. After the close of Appellees' case-in-chief, Appellants
On May 5, 2000, the jury returned a verdict for Appellees. Against Fulton County, the jury awarded the Appellees back pay in the amounts of $10,398.33 for Lambert, $4,204.00 for Mowrey, and $3,679.18 for Heath and compensatory damages in the amount of $425,000 for each Appellee. Against Regus, the jury awarded each Appellee compensatory damages in the amount of $50,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $225,000. Against Cooper, the jury awarded each Appellee compensatory damages of $50,000 and punitive damages of $225,000. After the jury was excused, Appellants asked the court to rule on the qualified immunity motion, which the court denied; Appellants also asked the court to rule on the punitive damages dismissal motion, on which the court again reserved ruling. The court denied Appellants' motion to dismiss the punitive damages award, declined to reduce the punitive damages award,
On June 13, 2000, Appellants timely renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law and alternatively, moved for a new trial. The court denied the motions and entered judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict on July 19, 2000. These appeals ensued.
II. Sufficiency of the Evidence
We review de novo the district court's denial of the Appellants' motions for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's verdicts, applying the same standard as the district court. See Montgomery v. Noga, 168 F.3d 1282, 1289 (11th Cir.1999). In applying that standard, "we review the evidence `in the light most favorable to, and with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of, the nonmoving party.'" Montgomery, 168 F.3d at 1289 (quoting Walker v. NationsBank of Fla., N.A., 53 F.3d 1548, 1555 (11th Cir.1995)). We will not second-guess the jury or substitute our judgment for its judgment if its verdict is supported by sufficient evidence. See Gupta v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 212 F.3d 571, 582 (11th Cir.2000).
Appellants argue that the jury's verdict should be reversed because it was not supported by the evidence. After a careful review of the record, we find that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury verdicts as to all three Appellants. There was ample evidence for the jury to conclude that the conduct of Cooper was motivated by a racially evil motive or intent. Cooper conducted a several month investigation so that a statement could be submitted to the EEOC responding to the charges filed by the two Big Creek employees. The County Attorneys told Regus that Cooper's report of his investigation was totally insufficient to justify Cooper's recommendation that discipline be imposed on unnamed supervisors.
Not only was there sufficient evidence to support the jury verdicts, but the record also clearly reflects that the jury's attention to critical elements of Appellees' claims was focused by a series of special interrogatories in the verdict form addressing separately each Appellee's claims against each Appellant. Among other matters, the jury expressly found by their answers, (a) that Regus and Cooper intentionally discriminated against each Appellee in the terms or conditions of his employment based upon the race of each Appellee, (b) that each Appellee should recover from Regus and from Cooper $50,000 compensatory damages and $225,000 punitive damages, (c) that Regus and Cooper each acted with malice or reckless indifference to each Appellee's federally protected rights, and (d) that the race of each Appellee was a substantial or motivating factor which prompted Fulton County to discipline each Appellee.
III. Motions for New Trial
The standard of review for a district court's disposition of a motion for new trial is abuse of discretion. See McWhorter v. City of Birmingham, 906 F.2d 674, 677 (11th Cir.1990). Appellants in this case argue that the district court erred by not granting their motions for new trial because the district court admitted evidence of media coverage; because the district court failed to declare a mistrial following the improper reading of previously excluded portions of the deposition testimony of Josh Kenyon; and because of misconduct of Appellees' counsel in the form of (a) reading the previously excluded portion of Kenyon's deposition and, (b) openly providing opposing counsel a record of a prior conviction of a witness (Arthur Glass, Jr.) before the court sustained the objection raised by counsel for Appellants.
IV. Qualified Immunity
We review de novo the denial of qualified immunity. See Jordan v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559, 1563 (11th Cir.1994). "Qualified immunity protects government officials performing discretionary functions from civil trials (and the other burdens of litigation, including discovery) and from liability if their conduct violates no `clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Lassiter v. Alabama A&M Univ., Bd. of Trustees, 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir.1994) (en banc) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396, 409 (1982)). In analyzing the affirmative defense of qualified immunity, we first consider whether Regus and Cooper were acting within the scope of their discretionary authority when the disciplinary decisions at issue were made. See Evans v. Hightower, 117 F.3d 1318, 1320 (11th Cir.1997). On this record, it is undisputed that they were. Thus, to eliminate the defense of qualified immunity, Appellees have the burden to demonstrate that the wrongful acts by Regus and Cooper violated clearly
V. Punitive Damages
Regus and Cooper's challenge to the sufficiency of evidence as to punitive damages is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. We review de novo the denial of Appellants' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of punitive damages. See EEOC v. W&O, Inc., 213 F.3d 600, 610 (11th Cir.2000). Applying the same standards as the district court, we "`consider whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law."' Id. (quoting Combs v. Plantation Patterns, 106 F.3d 1519, 1526 (11th Cir.1997)). We must "`consider all the evidence, and the inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.'" Id. (quoting Combs, 106 F.3d at 1526). "[A] jury may be permitted to assess punitive damages in an action under § 1983 when the defendant's conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the federally protected rights of others." Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 1640, 75 L.Ed.2d 632, 651 (1983). See Kolstad v. American Dental Ass'n, 527 U.S. 526, 534-538, 119 S.Ct. 2118, 2124-25, 144 L.Ed.2d 494 (1999) (holding that the Smith standard for an award of punitive damages in an employment discrimination case is satisfied by a showing of either an evil intention to deprive a plaintiff of his federally protected rights or a conscious indifference to those rights). Where, as here, (1) there is no argument or evidence that Cooper or Regus genuinely believed that racial discrimination in the context of this case was permissible, and (2) there is ample evidence that both Regus and Cooper intentionally discriminated against Appellants because of their race, nothing more is required to support an award of punitive damages. See Alexander v. Fulton County, Ga., 207 F.3d 1303, 1337-38 (11th Cir.2000) (holding that defendant's knowledge that it is illegal to treat employees differently on account of race, coupled with credible evidence that defendant intentionally did so, is sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the Kolstad standard for punitive damages has been satisfied). After considering all of the evidence and the jury's findings,
Appellants' also challenge the amount of punitive damages, which challenge is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e). We "`will not overturn a denial of a Rule 59 motion absent an abuse of discretion.'" W&O, Inc., 213 F.3d at 610 (quoting Mays v. United States Postal Serv., 122 F.3d 43, 46 (11th Cir.1997)). In this case, the ratio of actual damages to punitive damages awarded for each Appellee against each Appellant is 4.5:1. Under the facts in this case, the punitive damage awards are not constitutionally excessive and we do not find that the district judge abused his discretion in denying Appellants' Rule 59 motion.
Accordingly we affirm.