United States District Court, D. Delaware
Patrick C. Gallagher, Raeann Warner, JACOBS & CRUMPLAR,
P.A., Wilmington, Delaware Counsel for Plaintiff
Richard A. Barkasy, Daniel M. Pereira, SCHNADER, HARRISON,
SEGAL & LEWIS LLP, Wilmington, Delaware; Jo Bennett,
Samantha Banks, SCHNADER, HARRISON, SEGAL & LEWIS LLP,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Counsel for Defendant
F. CONNOLLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Court held a five-day jury trial in this employment
discrimination case filed by Plaintiff Autumn Lampkins
against Defendant Mitra QSR KNE, LLC. The jury found that
Mitra unlawfully discriminated against Lampkins on the basis
of her sex by demoting her and cutting her hours because she
was lactating. The jury also found that (1) Mitra
unlawfully subjected Lampkins to a hostile work environment
because she was lactating and (2) Mitra's hostile work
environment resulted in Lampkins' demotion, reduction in
work hours, and constructive discharge. The jury awarded
Lampkins $25, 000 in compensatory damages and $1, 500, 000 in
before me is Mitra's renewed motion for judgment as a
matter of law under Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure (FRCP) and for a new trial under FRCP 59(a). D.I.
168. Mitra seeks by its motion entry of a judgment in its
favor on Lampkins' hostile work environment and punitive
damages claims or, in the alternative, a new trial on those
claims. Mitra further seeks a new trial on Lampkins'
disparate treatment claims. Finally, Mitra requests that in
the event I deny its requests for judgment as a matter of law
and a new trial, 1 reduce the jury's punitive damages
award "to comport with constitutional limits and Title
VII's statutory damages cap." Id. at 2.
alleged three counts in the operative complaint (her First
Amended Complaint): sex discrimination (i.e., disparate
treatment) (Count I) and creating and/or allowing a
hostile work environment (Count II) in violation of Title
VII, and failure to provide accommodations and opportunities
to express breast milk (Count III) in violation of the Fair
Labor Standards Acts (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 2O7(r). Before
trial, I granted in part Mitra's summary judgment motion
and dismissed the FLSA count. See D.I. 101.
presented at trial two theories of disparate treatment
liability and eight theories of hostile work environment
liability. Specifically, Lampkins argued that (1) Mitra
unlawfully discriminated against her by demoting her; (2)
Mitra unlawfully discriminated against her by reducing her
work hours; (3) her supervisors created and subjected her to
a hostile work environment; (4) her coworkers created and
subjected her to a hostile work environment; (5) a hostile
work environment created by her supervisors resulted in her
demotion; (6) a hostile work environment created by her
coworkers resulted in her demotion; (7) a hostile work
environment created by her supervisors resulted in a
reduction in her work hours; (8) a hostile work environment
created by her coworkers resulted in a reduction in her work
hours; (9) a hostile work environment created by her
supervisors resulted in her constructive discharge; and (10)
a hostile work environment created by her coworkers resulted
in her constructive discharge.
Lampkins' insistence, I instructed the jury (albeit
reluctantly) on all ten of these theories. The verdict sheet
agreed to by the parties did not distinguish between
supervisor and coworker liability, thus reducing the claims
adjudicated by the jury to six in number (i.e., combining
theories (3) with (4), (5) with (6), (7) with (8), and (9)
with (10)). The jury found in Lampkins' favor on all six
light of the circumstances which gave rise to Lampkins'
claims, one would have expected the case to be simple and
straightforward. Lampkins worked for Mitra less than five
months. Her claims implicate the conduct of only two
supervisors and a half dozen coworkers in two small fast food
restaurants. The demotion and cut in hours about which she
complains resulted from a single episode-Mitra's decision
in the seventh week of Lampkins' employment to transfer
her to a smaller store. The demotion resulted in a cut in her
hourly pay from $10.50 to $10.00.
case, however, has proved to be anything but simple and
straightforward, principally because throughout the
litigation Lampkins conflated her disparate treatment and
hostile work environment Title VII claims with each other and
also with her FLSA claim. For its part, Mitra is not without
blame, as it acceded in large part to Lampkins'
conflation of theories until it was too late and never
(including in its post-trial briefing) brought to the
Court's attention case law from this District (and other
courts) that, had the Court been aware of it, would have
simplified the case long ago. But putting aside the question of
fault for creating the situation, I am convinced that the
conflation of claims and theories of liability undoubtedly
confused the jury, unfairly prejudiced Mitra, and, because
Mitra is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on
Lampkins' hostile work environment claims, necessitates a
Judgment as A Matter of Law
the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of
law made under Rule 50(a) ... the movant may file a renewed
motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an
alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule
59." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). Upon a Rule 50(b) motion, a
jury verdict should be overturned "only if, viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and
giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable
inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury
reasonably could find liability." Fultz v.
Dunn, 165 F.3d 215, 218 (3d Cir. 1998) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
59(a) permits a district court judge, "on motion,"
to grant a new trial "for any reason for which a new
trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in
federal court." A new trial may be granted when the
verdict is contrary to the evidence, where a miscarriage of
justice would result if the jury's verdict were to stand,
or when the court believes the verdict results from
confusion. Brown v. Nutrition Mgmt. Servs.
Co., 370 Fed.Appx. 267, 270 (3d Cir. 2010); see also
Nissho- Iwai Co. v. Occidental Crude Sales,
Inc., 729 F.2d 1530, 1538 (5th Cir. 1984) ("A trial
judge may order a new trial if he suspects that the jury
verdict reflects confusion.").
EVIDENCE ADDUCED AT TRIAL
relevant evidence adduced at trial, viewed in the light most
favorable to Lampkins, established the following.
Lampkins Begins Work and Trains at Mitra's Camden
hired Lampkins in December 2014 to work as an Assistant
Manager at a restaurant it owned in Camden, Delaware. The
Camden store was a "dual brand store" that sold
both KFC and Taco Bell food products.
started work at the Camden store on December 29, 2014 as a
trainee in Mitra's eight-week training program. She
received positive and negative reviews during her training.
She was paid at an hourly rate of $10.50. PI. Ex. 6 at 1.
Camden store had only two areas that were walled off within
the store: the bathrooms and an office. The office housed the
store's safe and therefore, for security reasons, had
windows and a security camera that fed a monitor which could
be viewed by Mitra's security personnel in Texas.
breastfed her newly-born baby throughout her tenure with
Mitra and she therefore needed to use a breast pump during
work hours. For her first two weeks at Mitra, Lampkins
breast-pumped in the women's bathroom. When a customer
complained that Lampkins was tying up the bathroom, a
supervisor directed Lampkins to breast-pump in the office.
was understandably unhappy about having to breast-pump in the
office. Mitra refused her request to cover the security
camera lens, and thus she "fe[lt] uncomfortable because
there's people that I don't even know that are able
to essentially watch me doing something very private."
Tr. 164:5-7. Her supervisor's recommendation that
Lampkins avoid the camera lens by "fac[ing] the other
way" did not alleviate Lampkins' concerns, as
"fac[ing] the other way" enabled coworkers to see
Lampkins breast-pump through the office's windows. Tr.
occasion in early or mid-January 2015, while Lampkins was
breast-pumping, a male coworker named Bo entered the office
to check the store's computer for operational statistics.
Tr. 226:21-227:5. According to Lampkins, Bo spent a
"minute or two" on the computer, told Lampkins that
she shouldn't breast-pump at work, and left the office.
Tr. 226:6-19. Lampkins complained to a supervisor about
Bo's walking in on her while she breast-pumped and his
comment about her breast-pumping at work. Tr. 227:6-7. The
supervisor later told Lampkins that she had spoken to Bo
about these matters. Lampkins testified that Bo never spoke
to Lampkins after Lampkins complained to her supervisor and
that Bo's silence was "really awkward and a little
bit hostile." Tr. 165:19-23.
another occasion at the Camden store, a male coworker named
Reese "peaked in [the office window while Lampkins
breast-pumped] and made like little squeezing gestures with
his hands and kind of laughing, making a joke about it to
others." Tr. 166:8-10. After Lampkins complained to a
supervisor about Reese's conduct, the supervisor
"brought in like a poster board to cover the
window." Tr. 166:11-12. According to Lampkins, the
poster board "solved half of the problem . .., but we
still ha[d] the major concern of the camera being in there
and they wouldn't turn that off." Tr. 166:18-20.
asked by her counsel at trial if "anyone else c[a]me
into the office while you were pumping" at the Camden
store, Lampkins testified that "[t]he other assistant
managers occasionally would need to or they would run in
really fast and Joy [the Camden store's general manager]
would come in." Tr. 166:21-24. When asked "how did
that make you feel?" Lampkins testified: "I was a
little bit more comfortable with them just because they were
females and being like I've changed in locker rooms in
front of females, [and] it's easier to be comfortable
around somebody of your own sex against a male walking
in." Tr. 166:25-167:5.
February 8, 2015, at the beginning of Lampkins' seventh
week in the training program, her training coach, Emily
Martin, sent an email with the subject line "Urgent HR
issues in Delaware" to Mitra's Director of Human
Resources, Nancy Jacobi. Among the various issues identified
in the email, one concerned Lampkins: "External AUM
trainee comes out of training next week and I need to know if
when she has to pump breast milk several times while at work
should she be on or off the clock?" PL Ex. 4 at 3.
Jacobi responded to Martin's email in relevant part:
On the young lady that needs to breast pump, not only are we
required to accommodate this, but we would apply the rules
just as we do when someone takes more than 30 minutes. If it
is under 30 minutes, we would consider this a paid break. If
more than 30 minutes is required, we would require the
employee to clock out and clock back in. Out of curiosity,
where is this person going to be doing this? In the office or
the ladies room? Do we have outlets available for use in
Id. at 1. In reply to Jacobi's email, Martin
wrote: "Office-it has a door and outlets[.] [L]adies
room is a single stall so it would tie up the restroom for
too long." Id.
point in late January or early February 2015, Lampkins was
informed by Martin and Joy that Lampkins was being demoted to
the position of shift manager and transferred to a KFC-only
(i.e., single brand) restaurant owned by Mitra in Dover,
Delaware. According to Lampkins, "the first words out of
[Martin's] mouth was, [']we're going to demote
you because you're breastfeeding. It will be easier for
you to run a single brand store and you'll have more time
to step away, and once you're done nursing, you can go
back into the assistant manager position that you originally
were hired for.'" Tr. 169:9-14. Lampkins testified
that the transfer to Dover "c[a]me with a pay cut and
reduced hours, but [that Martin] assured [her] it was all for
[her] own benefit, and that... once [Lampkins] was done [at
Dover], that [Mitra] would not have any problems bringing
[her] back into the assistant manager position [at
Camden]." Tr. 170:1-6. Lampkins was disappointed by the
transfer and demotion, but she did not complain to
Mitra's human resources department because she needed the
job and because "I felt like I was already being
reprimanded for nursing and I didn't want them to get
just get rid of me altogether." Tr. 170:17-24.
Lampkins Moves to Mitra's Dover Store
completed her training at the Camden store in the second week
of February 2015. She began working as a shift manager at the
Dover store on February 18, 2015. Her hourly rate was $10.00.
PI. Ex. 6 at 4.
typical shift at the Dover store began at 4:00 p.m. and ended
at 11:OO p.m. Tr. 172:4-5. She was charged with supervising
six part-time employees, whom she referred to as her
"team members." Tr. 172:6-9. Lampkins testified
that her team members did not like the fact that she took
breaks to breast-pump:
Q. How would you let your team members know that you were
going to take a break and express breast milk?
A. I would tell them. I would give them any direction or any
duties I wanted them to get done while I was on my break and
then I would tell them, okay. ["]l'rn going to go in
the office now. I will be done in about 15 minutes["]
and I would just go.
Q. So tell the jury what type of problem did you encounter,
if any, with regard to expressing breast milk while at the
A. The team members didn't want me to go. They would take
attitudes with me. They would tell me that if I went to the
[back] or to take a break, that they were going to leave.
That they would just abandon their shift[s]. Just constant
attitudes, like it was an inconvenience for me to get a
Q. And who specifically threatened to leave the store?
A. Destiny told me that if I went into the office, she was
going to leave.
Q. Did you ever complain to Lisa [Lampkins' supervisor at
the Dover store] about your team members' attitudes ... ?
A. I brought it up to Lisa more times than I could count and
she just - she brushed off my concerns. She gave them
justifications for why they were behaving that way. She just
never stood behind me as a manager. She just, it just seemed
like it was, like she didn't even care.
Q. What was Lisa's response to the comment that [D]estiny
made to you, that she would threaten to walk out? ...
A. Well, [D]estiny did walk out one night. She abandoned her
job. I had - I asked her to go take a customer's order at
the front because she was the only register there and she
kind of, she got mad. She went and took the order and then
she went and took her lunch. At the end of her lunch, she
came into the office during the time I was pumping. She
grabbed her stuff and she left.
And so when I realized that she didn't come back, I
called Lisa. Lisa told me that she needed to research this
because Destiny's sister was the manager in the Milford
location and she was pregnant at the time. So she was
concerned something may have been serious.
Lisa came back to me and told me Destiny said that I annoyed
And that's why she left.
Tr. 173:8-174:1; 176:11-177:14.
the Camden store, the bathrooms and the office in the Dover
store were the only walled-off areas. Mitra refused
Lampkins' request to cover the security camera lens in
the Dover office; and, like the Camden office, the Dover
office had windows through which coworkers could observe
response to questions by her counsel about coworkers entering
the office in the Dover store while Lampkins breast-pumped,
Lampkins testified as follows:
Q. What about were there any instances of employees walking
in on you?
A. Yes. Chris. He was a new cook, so he somehow walked in. I
don't know. Maybe the door wasn't latched all the way
because I thought it was closed and locked, but he barged in
and asked me how much chicken I wanted him to cook, so being
as I was in the middle of pumping, I directed him to an
experienced team member and said, ["A]sk Destiny,
["] because she was on the line. She knew what time the
chicken was up. She could make an educated decision.
So he went ahead and he went to [Destiny] about it and before
I could even bring up the issue of him walking in on me, I
received messages from Lisa reprimanding me, telling me I was
wrong, that that was a manager call. ["]Destiny should
not tell him how much chicken to drop["] and I should
stop what I'm doing to answer his questions.
Q. Did you experience any other interruptions while you were
expressing breast milk at the workplace in Dover?
A. The office - yes, I did. The office was where everyone
kept all their personal belongings, so the team members would
want to come get their cellphones or their purses and things
like that. So they would come knock on the door for [their]
Q. And what would your response be to those interruptions?
A. If I was covered enough or if I didn't start yet, I
would let them come get it. Sometimes I would tell them that
they had to wait because I would just be too exposed. It just
kind of varied on those situations, but I did let them come
in at times ...