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Xu-Shen Zhou v. State University of New York Institute of Technology

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 6, 2014

XU-SHEN ZHOU, also known as Jason Zhou, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY; DR. LISA BERARDINO; DR STEPHEN HAVLOVIC; and DR. WILLIAM LANGDON, Defendants

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For Plaintiff: ROSS P. ANDREWS, ESQ., SARAH E. RUHEN, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, SATTER & ANDREWS, LLP, Syracuse, NY.

For Defendants: DOUGLAS J. GOGLIA, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, NY.

OPINION

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HON. GLENN T. SUDDABY, United States District Judge.

DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this employment discrimination action filed by Xu--Shen Zhou (" Plaintiff" ) against the State University of New York Institute of Technology (" SUNY IT" ), Dr. Lisa Berardino (" Berardino" ), Dr. Stephen Havlovic (" Havlovic" ) and Dr. William Langdon (" Langdon" ), (collectively, " Defendants" ), are Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, for a new trial or remittitur pursuant to Rules 50 and/or 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Plaintiff's motion for an order of reinstatement or front pay. For the following reasons, both motions are denied.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Relevant Procedural History

Because the parties have, in their memoranda of law, demonstrated an accurate understanding of this action's relevant procedural history, including the trial that occurred in this action between May 21, 2013 and May 23, 2013, the Court will not recite that history in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. Rather, the Court will proceed directly to a description of the parties' briefing on their post-trial motions.

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion

Generally, in their post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to

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Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, Defendants assert the following arguments: (1) Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law with regard to liability because (a) Plaintiff did not establish that he engaged in a protected activity and (b) Plaintiff did not prove that Defendants' legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for Plaintiff's non-renewal was pretextual; (2) in the alternative, Defendants should be granted a new trial regarding liability; and (3) Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law with regard to the after-acquired evidence rule and back pay because (a) the jury charge regarding the after-acquired evidence rule was erroneous, (b) Defendants offered unrebutted proof that Plaintiff's fraudulent misrepresentations were legitimate grounds for his non-renewal and (c) the after-acquired evidence rule should foreclose Plaintiff from recovering back pay after Plaintiff refused to produce his evaluations during discovery and moved to quash Defendants' subpoena to Bloomsburg University. ( See generally Dkt. No. 137-6, at 6-24 [Defs.' Mem. of Law].) In further support of their motion, Defendants argue that the Supreme Court's recent holding in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S., 133 S.Ct. 2517, 186 L.Ed.2d 503 (2013) that " but for" causation applies in Title VII retaliation claims warrants this Court granting Defendants judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, a new trial. ( See generally Dkt. No. 140 [Defs.' Supp. Mem. of Law].)

Generally, in his response to Defendants' motion, Plaintiff asserts the following arguments: (1) Defendants are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to liability because (a) Plaintiff established that he engaged in protected activity and, in any event, there was no manifest injustice with regard to this point, and (b) Plaintiff offered sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding of pretext; (2) Defendants should not be granted a new trial regarding the question of liability because the verdict was not seriously erroneous and there was no miscarriage of justice; (3) Defendants are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law regarding the after-acquired evidence rule and back pay because (a) the jury charge was adequate and, in any event, did not constitute a fundamental error, (b) the jury was entitled to reject the " unrebutted proof" regarding Defendants' assertion of the after-acquired evidence doctrine, and (c) were the after-acquired evidence doctrine applicable, the limit on recovery would run from the date of discovery; and (4) the Supreme's Court's decision in Nassar does not require judgment as a matter of law because the Court applied, and instructed the jury, consistent with the pretext approach, which is used to establish " but for" cases. ( See generally Dkt. No. 148, at 3-28 [Pl's Mem. of Law].)

Generally, in their reply to Plaintiff's response, Defendants argue that (1) this Court's initial instruction to the jury that, in order to prove a prima facie case of retaliation, Plaintiff only had to show that retaliation was a substantial or motivating factor in the decision not to renew his employment contract, was erroneous in light of Nassar ; and (2) Plaintiff has not and cannot establish that Defendants' alleged desire to retaliate against him was the " but for" cause of their determination not to renew his employment contract. ( See generally Dkt. No. 150, at 2-5 [Defs.' Reply Mem. of Law].)

C. Parties' Briefing on Plaintiff's Motion

Generally, in his post-trial motion for an order of reinstatement, Plaintiff asserts the following arguments: (1) reinstatement is the favored remedy in Title VII

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cases; (2) if the Court decides against reinstatement, Plaintiff should receive an award of at least one year of front pay; (3) the failure to specifically request reinstatement in a pleading does not foreclose such an award; and (4) the jury has already rejected Defendants' affirmative defense of after-acquired evidence. ( See generally Dkt. No. 138, at 3-7 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].)

Generally, in their response to Plaintiff's motion, Defendants assert the following arguments: (1) Plaintiff should not be entitled to an order of reinstatement because he failed to seek that relief in his amended complaint; (2) the after-acquired evidence rule should preclude Plaintiff from receiving reinstatement or front pay; and (3) reinstatement is not feasible because the relationship between SUNY IT and the Plaintiff is irreparably damaged. ( See generally Dkt. No. 143, at 1-7 [Defs.' Mem. of Law].)

Generally, in his reply to Defendants' response, Plaintiff argues that (1) his failure to include the request for reinstatement in his amended complaint does not render that relief inappropriate; (2) the after-acquired evidence rule should not be applied because the jury has already rejected that defense; and (3) the parties' relationship has not been irreparably damaged. ( See generally Dkt. No. 151, at 1-8 [Pl.'s Reply Mem. of Law].)

II. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Legal Standard Governing Motions for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b)

Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides as follows, in pertinent part:

If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment--or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged--the movant may file a renewed ...

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