326 F.Supp.2d 160 (2004) | Cited 7 times | D. Maine | June 9, 2004


Plaintiff Gary Webber sued International Paper Company ("IP")alleging that his dismissal as part of a reduction in force wasmotivated by his disability, in violation of the Maine HumanRights Act ("MHRA"), 5 M.R.S.A. § 4551-4634. The action wasremoved to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Attrial, a jury found for Mr. Webber and awarded compensatory andpunitive damages, which the Court subsequently reduced to$300,000 compensatory damages pursuant to 5 M.R.S.A. §4613(2)(B)(8). Finding that Mr. Webber removed himself from thelabor market at the end of 2001, this Court awarded Mr. Webberback pay of $27,384.02, plus prejudgment interest.

Presently before the Court are IP's renewed motion for judgmentas a matter of law and motion in the alternative for a new trial(Docket # 122) and Mr. Webber's motion to amend the findings offact and conclusions of law relating to back pay (Docket #121).For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS both IP'smotion for judgment as a matter of law and its alternative motion for a newtrial; Mr. Webber's motion to amend is rendered MOOT.


In deciding a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law,the Court must look at the evidence and all reasonable inferencestherefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.See Guilloty Perez v. Pierluisi, 339 F.3d 43, 50 (1st Cir.2003). The Court must not "consider the credibility of witnesses,resolve conflicts in testimony, or evaluate the weight of theevidence." Id. The Court reviews the record as a whole, butdisregards "all evidence favorable to the moving party that thejury is not required to believe." Reeves v. Sanderson PlumbingProds., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150-51 (2000).

In the light most favorable to Mr. Webber, the facts relevantto IP's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law are asfollows. From the early 1980s until he was laid off in July of2001, Mr. Webber worked at the Bucksport mill in Bucksport,Maine. The Bucksport mill manufactures coated paper for use inmagazines and catalogs. At the time of Mr. Webber's termination,the Bucksport mill was owned and operated by DefendantInternational Paper. In the summer of 2001, International Paperinstituted a corporation-wide reduction in force dubbed"Functional FAST," with the objective of reducing by threethousand the number of "corporate overhead" positions (thosepositions not directly involved in the manufacture of paper).

On June 15, 2001, Fred Oettinger, the manager of the Bucksportmill, met with Roger Purlington, IP's coated paper manufacturingdirector, and Bill Pierre, the human resources director forcoated paper mills, both of whom worked at IP's Memphis offices.Also present at the meeting were Jeff Hamilton, the mill'soperations manager, and David Libby, the mill's human resources manager. Serge Sorokin, intraining to replace Mr. Purlington, participated from Memphis viatelephone. At the meeting, Mr. Oettinger was directed by hissuperiors to eliminate twenty-one positions at the mill,including eight engineers. He was further advised that theBucksport mill employed ten mechanical project engineers whereascomparable mills employed only six; he was instructed to paredown the number of project engineers.

Mr. Oettinger decided to reduce the number of project engineersby two, to a total of eight. Of the project engineers, Mr.Oettinger decided to eliminate the positions of Mr. Webber andWayne Jacobs. Mr. Oettinger testified that he selected Mr. Webberbecause he did not have an engineering degree and was not capableof working on the high-end engineering projects directly relatedto the manufacture of paper. Mr. Webber acknowledged that he wasless qualified than other project engineers and that there wereindeed projects that he was not qualified to do. Mr. Webber onlyidentified one project engineer, Wayne Jacobs, whom he believedto be less qualified than he. Notably, Mr. Jacobs was laid offthe same week as Mr. Webber.

Most individuals whose positions were eliminated as part ofFunctional FAST were notified of their termination on Monday,June 25, 2001. On June 22, Mr. Oettinger told Larry Schaub, theengineering manager, and Stephen Moser, the maintenance engineermanager, about his decisions regarding the termination of projectengineers. The undisputed testimony indicates that Mr. Oettingerhad already made his decision before he spoke with Mr. Schaub andMr. Moser. Neither acted to save Mr. Webber's job. On the morning of June 25, 2001, Mr. Webber met with Mr.Oettinger and Mr. Libby, and was informed that his position wasbeing eliminated and his employment terminated. When Mr. Webberasked why he had been chosen, Mr. Oettinger told him that it wasbecause of the quantity and quality of his work, and that hiscapabilities were limited by the fact that he did not have anengineering degree.

Mr. Webber suffers from problems with his knees, which havenecessitated several surgeries since 1997. As a result of hisknee troubles, Mr. Webber's mobility is limited, and he walkswith a cane. His knee surgeries have sometimes required extendedabsences from work. Following the advent of his kneedifficulties, IP accommodated each of his requests related to hisdisability. Mr. Webber was permitted to park his car inside themill, something that no other employee (including the millmanager) did. He received permission to use the freight elevatorin the main office building, where his workstation was located,and stair glide chairs were installed in the main office buildingand the employee development center building at Mr. Webber'srequest. Mr. Schaub permitted Mr. Webber to work from home, andIP provided a laptop computer for that purpose. Mr. Schaub alsoworked with Mr. Webber to allow him to work a part-time schedulewhile recovering from a knee surgery. Mr. Schaub assigned somephysical aspects of Mr. Webber's job to other employees. Finally,Mr. Webber was reassigned from an office on the third floor to anoffice on the first floor at his request.

The comments presented by Mr. Webber to support an inferencethat he was terminated because of disability discrimination areas follows: (1) an unattributed maxim that Mr. Webber heardduring his time at the mill that "salaried people do not gethurt"; (2) a comment made by Steven Finley (then one of Mr.Webber's supervisors) in December 1997 that if Mr. Webber lost twenty pounds, he wouldhave fewer problems with his knee, at which Mr. Finley and Mr.Schaub laughed; (3) the description of a stairglide chairinstalled to help Mr. Webber reach his work station as a"Costanza chair" by Mr. Moser, Mr. Schaub (Mr. Webber'ssecond-line supervisor) and Tom Thompson (Mr. Webber's first-linesupervisor), in reference to an episode of the television show"Seinfeld" in which the character George Costanza fakes adisability; (4) a discussion with Dr. Read, the mill doctor, inJanuary or February of 2001, two weeks before a scheduled kneesurgery, at which Dr. Read suggested that Mr. Webber should gohome to avoid injuring himself at the mill; (5) an inquiry by Mr.Thompson in May or June of 2001 as to how long it would take forMr. Webber's knee to heal; and (6) a comment by Mr. Thompson onJune 25, 2001, just before Mr. Webber was notified of histermination (but after the decision to terminate his employmenthad been made), that "you're the weakest link, you're gone."

Mr. Webber also attempts to infer discriminatory animus from:(1) the mill manager's efforts to reduce work-related "lost-time"injuries; (2) the fact that Mr. Webber can do most of the taskscurrently being performed by project engineers at the mill, evenwithout a degree; (3) IP's failure to offer Mr. Webber employmentin a different position at the mill when his position waseliminated; and (4) evidence that Dale Wibberly (an employee inthe mill's human resources department) had suggested to one ofhis superiors that Mr. Webber be removed from the list ofemployees to be laid off because he was not yet back full-timefollowing a knee surgery. II. THE MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

A. Overview

The Maine Human Rights Act prohibits employers from, interalia, "discriminat[ing] against a qualified individual with adisability because of the disability of the individual in regardto [the] . . . discharge of employees." 5 M.R.S.A. § 4572(2)."[B]ecause the MHRA generally tracks federal anti-discriminationstatutes, it is appropriate to look to federal precedent forguidance in interpreting the MHRA." Winston v. Me. TechnicalColl. Sys., 631 A.2d 70, 74 (Me. 1993) (quoted in Doyle v.Dep't Human Servs., 824 A.2d 48, 54 n. 7 (Me. 2003)). Theparties stipulated that Mr. Webber was "a qualified person with adisability within the meaning of the Maine Human Rights Act." Asa result, the only remaining issue for trial was whether Mr.Webber's termination was the product of illegal discriminationbased on his disability.

The question before the Court in a motion for judgment as amatter of law is whether the facts and inferences are such thatno reasonable factfinder could have reached a verdict against themovant. See Santos v. Sunrise Med., Inc., 351 F.3d 587, 590(1st Cir. 2003). Because Mr. Webber presents only circumstantialevidence of discrimination, the sufficiency of his claim isevaluated using the burden-shifting analysis established inMcDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). SeeMe. Human Rights Comm'n v. Auburn, 408 A.2d 1253, 1261-62 (Me.1979). In the initial step, Mr. Webber must establish a primafacie case of discrimination. The prima facie case is "a smallshowing that is not onerous and is easily made." Kosereis v.Rhode Island, 331 F.3d 207, 213 (1st Cir. 2003) (internalquotations and citations omitted). It creates an inference ofdiscrimination, which "fades away" when the employer offers anon-discriminatory reason for the employment action in question. Che v. Mass. BayTransp. Auth., 342 F.3d 31, 39 (1st Cir. 2003). Once theemployer has offered an alternative reason for the adverseemployment action, "[a]ll that remains is for the plaintiff toshow that the adverse employment action was the result ofdiscriminatory animus." Id.

The Court assumes, without deciding, that Mr. Webberestablished a prima facie case of disability discriminationagainst IP.1 Based on this assumption and IP's proffer ofa nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Mr. Webber (thecompany-wide reduction in force, combined with his lack of anengineering degree), the McDonnell Douglas framework is leftbehind, and the Court focuses on the central issue in this case:whether a reasonable jury could have concluded that Gary Webberwas included in the July 2001 reduction in force because of hisdisability. Cf. Conway v. Electro Switch Corp., 825 F.2d 593,599 (1st Cir. 1987) (noting that "in any sex discrimination case,the ultimate issue is whether the defendant intentionallydiscriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of sex").

IP explained that Mr. Webber was among those discharged in theJuly 2001 reduction in force because it had been determined thattwo project engineer positions would be eliminated, and Mr.Webber was one of the two least-qualified project engineers. Mr.Webber had the burden of proving by a preponderance of theevidence that this was (1) not the real reason for histermination, and (2) that the actual reason for his terminationwas discrimination on the basis of his disability. SeeReeves, 530 U.S. at 146-47; Zapata-Matos v. Reckitt & Colman,Inc., 277 F.3d 40, 45 (1st Cir. 2002). As explained below, the Court concludes that no reasonablefactfinder could find that IP's proffered reason for Mr. Webber'stermination was pretexual, and that even assuming the profferedreason was pretext, no reasonable factfinder could find that Mr.Webber's termination was the product of disabilitydiscrimination.

B. Pretext

In order to create a question of fact as to pretext, Mr. Webbermust do more than discredit the rationale behind his selectionfor the reduction in force: he must generate a genuine disputeabout the honesty of the company's assertion that he was selectedbecause he was among the least-qualified employees in a projectengineer position. See Carson v. Bethlehem Steel Corp.,82 F.3d 157, 158 (7th Cir. 1996) ("The central question in anyemployment-discrimination case is whether the employer would havetaken the same action had the employee been of a different race(age, sex, religion, national origin, etc.) and everything elsehad remained the same."), quoted in Dominguez-Cruz v. SuttleCaribe, Inc., 202 F.3d 424, 431 (1st Cir. 2000). This he has notdone.

1. Discriminatory Comments. One way of creating a question offact as to pretext is to show discriminatory comments made by thekey decisionmaker or one in a position to influence thedecisionmaker. See Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. WirelessCorp., 217 F.3d 46, 55 (1st Cir. 2000). Although Mr. Webberargues that the evidence of various comments made to him over theyears of his employment allows an inference of pretext, none ofthese comments is adequately tied to the decisionmaker to allowsuch an inference.

Mr. Webber agreed that there was no evidence that Mr.Oettinger, the key decisionmaker, harbored any discriminatoryanimus, and there was no showing of discriminatory animus on the part of any of the individualsinvolved in the decisionmaking process (Mr. Purlington, Mr.Pierre, Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Libby, and Mr. Sorokin).2 Mr.Webber made no argument that the reduction in force itself, orthe decision to reduce the number of project engineers by two,was motivated by discriminatory animus. Mr. Webber is left with amixed bag of statements about his knees made over the course ofhis employment, which he hopes will somehow impart discriminatoryanimus to a decision made by a non-discriminatory decisionmaker.This approach cannot succeed.

The only comments that Mr. Webber even argues could be relatedto the decisionmaking process are the comments of Mr. Schaub andMr. Moser. It is true that an employer may be held liable foremployment discrimination where the decisionmaker harbored nodiscriminatory animus, but made the decision based on false ormisleading information provided by an employee who did harborsuch animus. Cariglia v. Hertz Equipment Rental Corp.,363 F.3d 77, 87-88 (1st Cir. 2004). However, even if the temporally remoteand non-employment-related comments of Mr. Schaub and Mr. Mosercould be construed as evidence of discriminatory animus, there isno evidence that Mr. Schaub and Mr. Moser provided negativeinformation to influence Mr. Oettinger's decision to include Mr.Webber in the reduction in force, or failed to correctmisunderstandings of fact held by Mr. Oettinger. Although Mr.Schaub and Mr. Moser were informed of Mr. Webber's impendingtermination, they took no action. A discriminator's failure todisagree with a superior's non-discriminatory terminationdecision cannot breathe discriminatory intent into an otherwiseinnocuous employment action. To hold otherwise would allow everyplaintiff who could produce evidence of another employee's discriminatory animus to impute that animus toa decisionmaking process in which the discriminatory individualplayed no part, but could have. This would undermine therequirement that the plaintiff show that the disability "was thedetermining factor in an adverse employment action." Patten v.Wal-Mart Stores East, Inc., 300 F.3d 21, 25 (1st Cir. 2002)(emphasis in original); see also Doyle v. Dep't Human Servs.,824 A.2d at 54. It would also prevent an employee who knew thatshe could not make nondiscriminatory decisions about anotheremployee from recusing herself from decisionmaking about thatemployee, a result clearly contrary to the purpose of the MHRA.

Having reviewed all the comments relied upon by Mr. Webber, itis clear to this Court that there is no evidence to tie theallegedly discriminatory comments to Oettinger's decision, andconsequently those comments do not tend to show that theproffered reason for Mr. Webber's termination was pretexual.

2. Weaknesses or Implausibilities in the Employer'sExplanations of the Termination Decision. A second way ofcreating a question of fact as to pretext is by showing"weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, orcontradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasonssuch that a factfinder could infer that the employer did not actfor the asserted non-discriminatory reasons." Santiago-Ramos v.Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d at 56 (internalquotations omitted). IP maintained that Mr. Webber was includedin the reduction in force because of the general cost-cuttingmeasures imposed by Functional FAST, combined with the fact thathe was the only project engineer without an engineering degree,making him less qualified than other project engineers. Mr.Webber attempted to contradict this explanation by arguing that the mill now outsources most of the projects that he is notqualified to manage. Mr. Webber characterizes this outsourcing as"strong circumstantial evidence that Defendant's proffered reasonfor Mr. Webber's termination . . . is pretextual." Thischaracterization is unmerited. An employee is not permitted tosubstitute his own judgment as to his qualifications for those ofhis employer. See Shorette v. Rite Aid of Me., Inc.,155 F.3d 8, 15 (1st Cir. 1998) ("It is well settled . . . that aplaintiff's own opinions about [his] work performance orqualifications do not sufficiently cast doubt on the legitimacyof [his] employer's proffered reasons for its employmentactions.") (quoting Ost v. W. Suburban Travelers Limousine,Inc., 88 F.3d 435, 441 (7th Cir. 1996)). IP was permitted toterminate Mr. Webber on any legal ground, including hisprofessional qualifications. The fact that Mr. Webber may stillhave been able to do his job does not merit the inference thatthe reason proffered by IP for selecting Mr. Webber fortermination was false. See Smith v. F.W. Morse & Co.,76 F.3d 413, 423 (1st Cir. 1996) ("The elimination of a positionsignifies the employer's belief that it can get by with one lesshelper; it does not necessarily convey a belief that the work theemployee had been doing was superfluous and need not be performedat all.").

Neither has Mr. Webber shown any inconsistencies in therationale given for his termination; it is undisputed that he wasthe only person without an engineering degree to be employed as aproject engineer, and Mr. Webber was unable to identify anyretained project engineer who was less qualified than he. Indeed,Mr. Webber recognized that an engineering degree was listed as"required criteria" in the project engineer job description. Mr. Webber places great weight on the fact that he was nottransferred to the position of SQA Coordinator, a position he hadpreviously sought and which was not filled at the time of histermination. However, an employer is not obligated to offer anemployee a transfer or relocation during a reduction in force.See Pages-Cahue v. Iberia Lineas Aereas de España,82 F.3d 533, 539 (1st Cir. 1996). Absent other evidence that Mr. Webberwas included in the group of laid-off employees based ondiscriminatory animus, the failure to offer him an unoccupiedposition during a period of downsizing does not lead to theconclusion that the reason proffered by IP was untrue, or thathis termination was based on discriminatory animus. At most, itwould constitute evidence that IP did not want Mr. Webber as anemployee, regardless of his position. See Smith, 76 F.3d at422 ("There is little doubt that an employer, consistent with itsbusiness judgment, may eliminate positions during the course of adownsizing without violating Title VII even though thosepositions are held by members of protected groups.").

In what is arguably his strongest attempt to establish aquestion of fact as to pretext from the evidence presented attrial, Mr. Webber attempts to tease an inference of disabilitydiscrimination from Mr. Oettinger's explanation, at the June 25,2001 meeting, that Mr. Webber was being let go because of thequality and quantity of his work.3 This effort isunavailing, for as Mr. Webber emphasizes in his memorandum, Mr.Oettinger did not review any of Mr. Webber's performanceevaluations, look at any of the projects Mr. Webber hadcontributed to, or speak with any of Mr. Webber's supervisorsbefore making his decision. (In the course of his job as millmanager, Mr. Oettinger reviewed all expenditures over $10,000,and was generally familiar with the types of work performed by different project engineers.) The fact that nocomplaints were made about the quality and quantity of Mr.Webber's work prior to his termination does not reveal a weaknessor implausibility in IP's explanation that he was let go becausehe was one of the least qualified engineers. Viewing the recordas a whole (including the strong evidence supporting IP'sproffered reason for Mr. Webber's termination) in the light mostfavorable to Mr. Webber, Mr. Oettinger's statement can only meanthat Mr. Webber could not do certain work because of hisprofessional qualifications. It does not allow the inference thatIP's proffered reason was false or that Mr. Webber's terminationwas based on his disability or his attendant leaves of absence.

Based on the foregoing discussion and its review of the record,the Court concludes that Mr. Webber did not create a question offact as to whether IP's proffered reason for his termination waspretextual.

C. Discrimination.

Assuming arguendo that the evidence introduced in this casewas sufficient for a reasonable factfinder to conclude that thereasons given for Mr. Webber's termination were pretextual, thereis insufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that thetrue reason for Mr. Webber's termination was disabilitydiscrimination.

Even if Mr. Webber could establish pretext, there is a dearthof evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could concludethat the real reason for his termination was his disability."[P]roof that the employer's proffered reason is unpersuasive, oreven obviously contrived, does not necessarily establish that theplaintiff's proffered reason is correct." Reeves v. SandersonPlumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. at 146-47 (internal quotationsand punctuation omitted). Reeves explained that although aplaintiff in an employment discrimination case must prove both that theemployer's proffered reason for terminating the employee wasfalse and that the reason offered is a pretext fordiscrimination, the falsity of the proffered reason may permitthe inference that the actual reason for the employment action inquestion was illegal discrimination. 530 U.S. at 147. However,the Reeves court clarified that this is not always the case: This is not to say that such a showing by the plaintiff will always be adequate to sustain a jury's finding of liability. Certainly there will be instances where, although the plaintiff has established a prima facie case and set forth sufficient evidence to reject the defendant's explanation, no rational factfinder could conclude that the action was discriminatory. For instance, an employer would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the record conclusively revealed some other, nondiscriminatory reason for the employer's decision, or if the plaintiff created only a weak issue of fact as to whether the employer's reason was untrue and there was abundant and uncontroverted evidence that no discrimination had occurred.Id. at 148 (emphasis in original). In this case, the evidenceis conclusive that Mr. Webber was included in the reduction inforce because of his lack of professional qualifications: therewas no showing that Mr. Oettinger or any of the otherdecisionmakers involved harbored discriminatory animus,4and no suggestion that the decision to eliminate two projectengineer positions was influenced by impermissiblediscrimination. It is undisputed that Mr. Webber was lessqualified than the retained project engineers.

The comments relied on by Mr. Webber either lack temporalproximity to the decision to terminate his employment, are"textbook example[s] of [] isolated remark[s] which demonstrate[]nothing," see Shorette v. Rite Aid of Me., Inc., 155 F.3d at13, or show no evidence of discriminatory mindset. The comments were inno way tied to the conditions of employment or Mr. Webber'squalifications for such employment. Moreover, the accommodationsmade for Mr. Webber's disability are inconsistent with a biasagainst disabled employees. Cf. Smith v. F.W. Morse & Co., 76F.3d at 423 (noting that promotion and increase in compensationin advance of six-week maternity leave were "inconsistent with abias against pregnant employees.")

Even if the comments made by Mr. Schaub and Mr. Moser could beattributed to the decisionmaking process in spite of Mr. Schauband Mr. Moser's mere acquiescence in Mr. Oettinger's decision,they do not allow an inference that the true reason for Mr.Webber's termination was animus towards persons withdisabilities. First, Mr. Schaub's reaction to the commentregarding weight loss almost four years before Mr. Webber'stermination is too remote in time to have any probative valuewith respect to the reason for Mr. Webber's termination. SeeMcMillan v. Mass. Soc. for the Prevention of Cruelty toAnimals, 140 F.3d 288, 300-301 (1st Cir. 1998) (noting, whileupholding the district court's admission of certain evidence,that "stray remarks may properly constitute evidence ofdiscriminatory intent for the jury to consider in combinationwith other evidence," but that "even if the remarks are relevantfor the pretext inquiry, their probativeness is circumscribed ifthey were made in a situation temporally remote from the date ofthe employment decision . . . or if they were not related to theemployment decision in question or were made bynondecisionmakers.") Even if the suggestion that Mr. Webber losesome weight were close enough in time to have some probativevalue, that value would be undermined by the fact that thecomment did not exhibit hostility toward Mr. Webber's disability,or involve his employment at all. See Straughn v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 250 F.3d 23, 36 (1st Cir. 2001) ("Althoughstatements directly related to the challenged employment actionmay be highly probative in the pretext inquiry, mere generalized`stray remarks,' arguably probative of bias against a protectedclass, normally are not probative of pretext absent somediscernible evidentiary basis for assessing their temporal andcontextual relevance.") (emphasis in original) (internalcitations omitted). Second, as for the "Costanza chair" commentsabout the stair glide chair, even assuming the worst (as theCourt is obligated to), these comments would indicate that Mr.Schaub and Mr. Moser thought that Mr. Webber was feigning adisability, not that he was an undesirable employee because hehad a disability.

The remaining comments consist of remarks that were not evenarguably linked to decisionmakers or the decisionmaking process.Thus, any probative value they might have toward showing the truereason for an employment action is slight. See Wallace v. O.C.Tanner Recognition Co., 299 F.3d 96, 100-01 (1st Cir. 2002)(describing questions about an employee's retirement plans as"brief, stray remarks unrelated to the termination decisionalprocess," noting that there was "no accompanying suggestion that[the plaintiff's] value to the company had diminished because ofhis age," and stating that the effect of the comments by priorsupervisors on the strength of the plaintiff's case was"circumscribed — if not entirely negated — by the fact thatneither of them played a role in the termination.");Santiago-Ramos, 217 F.3d at 55 ("Typically, statements made byone who neither makes nor influences a challenged personneldecision are not probative in an employment discriminationcase.") (internal quotation omitted). Even assuming the maximthat "salaried people do not get hurt" was generally attributableto the mill management, the statement does not indicate adistaste for or a devaluation of persons with disabilities. At the very worst, it could be taken to meanthat salaried employees should not report work-related injuries.

To sum up, even if there were sufficient evidence from which ajury could conclude that the reasons offered by IP for Mr.Webber's termination were untrue, Mr. Webber simply did notpresent enough evidence to allow an inference that the truereason for his dismissal was disability discrimination. SeeZapata-Matos, 277 F.3d at 47 ("[T]he slight suggestion ofpretext present here, absent other evidence from whichdiscrimination can be inferred [does not meet] plaintiff'sultimate burden.")


A motion for a new trial involves greater discretion on thepart of the district court: such a motion may be granted only if"the outcome is against the clear weight of the evidence suchthat upholding the verdict will result in a miscarriage ofjustice." Johnson v. Spencer Press of Me., Inc., 364 F.3d 368,375 (1st Cir. 2004). In the exercise of that discretion, and inlight of the foregoing discussion, the Court alternatively holdsthat IP would be entitled to a new trial in the event that theruling of this Court granting the motion for judgment as a matterof law is reversed.


While Mr. Webber has plenty of concerns about the way in whichhe was terminated, this Court "do[es] not assume the role of asuper personnel department, assessing the merits — or even therationality — of employers' nondiscriminatory businessdecisions." Ruiz, 124 F.3d at 250 (internal quotationsomitted). "[I]nsofar as Title VII [and by extension, the MHRA] is concerned, an employer can hireor fire one employee instead of another for any reason, fair orunfair, provided that the employer's choice is not driven byrace, gender, pregnancy, or some other protected characteristic."Smith, 76 F.3d at 422. In the absence of any evidenceconnecting the decision to eliminate his position todiscrimination against persons with disabilities, the CourtGRANTS IP's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law.

Alternatively, the Court GRANTS International Paper's Motionfor a New Trial. Because Mr. Webber is not entitled to back paywhere the jury verdict rendered in his favor is contrary to law,his motion to amend this Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusionsof Law is rendered MOOT.


1. The Court notes that IP may have waived its argument thatMr. Webber failed to establish a prima facie case by failing toinclude the argument in its initial motion for judgment as amatter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a). See Larch v. MansfieldMun. Elec. Dept., 272 F.3d 63, 72 (1st Cir. 2001) (quoting 9ACharles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice andProcedure § 2537 (2d ed. 1994)).

2. Thus, any of these individuals' mere knowledge of Mr.Webber's disability is not probative of pretext ordiscrimination.

3. On the date he was terminated, Mr. Webber was workingpart-time as he transitioned back into the workplace after a kneesurgery.

4. Mr. Webber attempts to infer discriminatory animus from themill manager's efforts to reduce work-related injuries and"lost-time" injuries. The mere fact that an employer takes stepsto promote workplace safety does not allow the factfinder toinfer that the employer harbors animus towards people withdisabilities. Moreover, Mr. Webber's claim is based on disparatetreatment, not disparate impact, and as such, he must produceevidence that he was terminated because of his disability.

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