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CONNOLLY v. BIDERMANN INDUSTRIES U.S.A.

July 15, 1999

DIANA CAMPBELL CONNOLLY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BIDERMANN INDUSTRIES U.S.A., INC., BIDERMANN INDUSTRIES CORPORATION, GREAT AMERICAN KNITTING MILLS, HAROLD RAY RUSSELL, AND JAMES A. WILLIAMS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., District Judge.

  OPINION AND ORDER

Now pending before the Court is the motion of defendants Bidermann Industries U.S.A., Inc., Bidermann Industries Corporation, Great American Knitting Mills ("Great American"), Harold Ray Russell, and James A. Williams ("defendants") for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or, in the alternative, for an amendment to the judgment reducing the back pay award and setting aside the punitive damage award against Great American, pursuant to Rule 59. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied and the jury verdict will be left undisturbed.

Background

Plaintiff Diana Campbell Connolly ("Connolly") brought this lawsuit against the defendants, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Connolly worked for Great American from October 1982 to her termination in January 1995, at which time she held the position of Vice President of Sales for Chain Stores and handled the Sears and K-Mart accounts. That position required her to fly from New York to Chicago, Detroit, and North Carolina on a frequent basis. In the fall of 1994, as a result of flying while she had a cold, Connolly lost the hearing in one ear and suffered from a condition known as tinnitus, a ringing in the ear. Connolly was advised by her physician that she could lose the hearing in her other ear if she continued to engage in flying. One of the defendants' positions was that plaintiff was not qualified for her position because the ability to fly was an essential function of Connolly's job. (Tr. at 61.) Connolly 3 produced evidence that she notified the company that she would come back to work on January 16, 1995, but could not fly (Pl.Ex. 9); that she was terminated on January 13, 1995, without prior notice, by Executive Vice. President of Operations Ray Russell and Vice President for Human (a) Resources Charles Ferguson; that she asked if any other position was available and was told no (Tr. at 538-39); and that Russell in fact knew that the position of Regional Sales Manager for the New York Region was vacant. That position would not have required Connolly to fly.

A jury trial commenced March 1, 1999 and concluded with a verdict for Connolly on March 11, 1999. That verdict was reached with the aid of a number of Courtdrafted special interrogatories. The questions, and the respective answers, were as follows:

  1.  With respect to plaintiffs claim that defendants
      intentionally terminated her because she had a
      disability, do you find plaintiff has shown be a
      preponderance of the evidence that at the time of
      her termination
  (a) plaintiff was a person with a disability?
      YES
  (b) plaintiff was a qualified person who, with
      reasonable accommodation, was able to perform the
      essential functions of her job? NO
  (c) plaintiff was a qualified person who was able to
      perform the essential functions of a similar
      vacant position for which she was qualified? YES
  (d) defendants did not make reasonable accommodation
      so as to enable her to perform the essential
      functions of her position or to assign her to a
      similar vacant position for which she was
      qualified? YES
  2.  Have defendants shown by a preponderance of the
      evidence that plaintiffs reasonable accommodation
      would be an undue hardship? NO
  3.  Have defendants presented evidence that plaintiff
      was terminated for non-discriminatory legitimate
      business reasons? YES
  4.  Has plaintiff shown by a preponderance of the
      evidence
  (a) that defendants' evidence of non-discriminatory
      reasons for her termination was a mere pretext?
      YES
  (b) that the more likely motivation for her
      termination was her disability? YES

(Court Ex. 3.) The jury found that Connolly suffered damages as a direct result of intentional disability discrimination by James A. Williams, Harold Ray Russell, Great American, Bidermann Industries U.S.A., Inc., and Bidermann Industries Corp. and found that she suffered $50,000 in damages for past pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life's pleasures, and $475,000 for past lost wages and benefits. It awarded her zero damages for future pain and suffering and for ...


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