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Bonenberger v. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

October 20, 2014



CATHERINE D. PERRY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on several post-trial motions. A jury found for plaintiff David Bonenberger on his claims of race discrimination and conspiracy related to defendants' failure to transfer him to the position of Assistant Director of the St. Louis Police Academy. Defendants have moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, to amend judgment, or in the alternative, for a new trial. Plaintiff seeks attorney fees and expenses, costs, and supplemental equitable relief. For the reasons that follow, I will deny defendants' motion. I will also deny plaintiff's request for supplemental equitable relief. I will enter an award of attorneys fees and costs in favor of plaintiff, who is the prevailing party.


David Bonenberger, a white male, brought suit claiming that he was not given the position of Assistant Director of the St. Louis Police Academy because of his race. Bonenberger sued the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the members of the Board of Police Commissioners in their official capacities, Academy Director Lt. Michael Muxo, Lt. Col. Reggie Harris, and former Chief of Police Daniel Isom, alleging race discrimination. He also alleged that Muxo and Harris conspired to discriminate against him.

After a three day trial, the jury found in favor of Bonenberger against all defendants on the race discrimination claim and against Muxo and Harris on the conspiracy claim. It assessed Bonenberger's actual damages as $200, 000. The jury awarded punitive damages against Muxo in the amount of $100, 000, against Harris in the amount of $300, 000, and against Isom in the amount of $20, 000. I later denied Bonenberger's motion seeking to be given the Academy position as an equitable remedy, but granted other, limited, equitable relief.

Bonenberger and two other Sergeants applied for the position of Assistant Academy Director. None of the applicants possessed the three years of supervisory experience called for in the job posting. Neither Bonenberger nor Angela Taylor, the African-American female who ultimately got the job, was interviewed. In accordance with the chain of command, defendant Muxo recommended Taylor for the position to defendant Harris, and defendant Harris recommended Taylor to defendant Isom. Muxo and Harris had recommended to Isom that Taylor be temporarily detached to the position, but Isom decided to make it a permanent transfer. He did not look at any of the candidates' applications before making the decision.

Bonenberger testified that he was told by the Academy Director, defendant Muxo, that he should not bother applying for the job because it was going to a black female. Muxo said that this was at the direction of defendant Harris, Muxo's supervisor. A previous Assistant Director, Deborah Boelling, testified that Muxo told her that Harris wanted a black female in the position. When Boelling recommended plaintiff to Muxo, he told her that there was no way Harris would allow a white man to be the Assistant Director. Boelling also testified that Muxo told her Taylor was likely to get the position. After Taylor was selected, Muxo told Bonenberger that Taylor was selected at Harris' direction to "bring color down to the Academy." When Bonenberger filed a grievance, defendant Isom denied it because Taylor had "more time in rank" and a clean disciplinary record. In fact, Taylor did not have more time in rank than Bonenberger, and she did not have a clean disciplinary record. Additionally, Bonenberger had more supervisory experience than Taylor and, unlike Taylor, had extensive experience teaching at the Academy and training officers in the field.

The Academy position would not have been a promotion for Bonenberger because it did not provide a higher rank or more money. Bonenberger and others testified, however, that it had significant supervisory duties and was a higher-profile job that would allow Bonenberger to come into contact with more command rank officers. Isom testified that it was a very important job within the Police Department. Bonenberger testified that he considered it a promotion because it was his "dream job" within the force, because he would be the administrator of all the operations of the Academy and thus have an influence on new officers. He also testified that, unlike other positions in the police force, it had regular Monday through Friday working hours and regular holidays off.


1. Defendants' motion for judgment or a new trial

Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law because plaintiff failed to present evidence that the police department discriminates against Caucasians and because he failed to show he suffered an adverse employment action. They argue alternatively that they are entitled to a new trial because the verdicts are against the weight of the evidence, and additionally because the jury instructions did not submit adverse employment action as an element of the offense. They also assert that the evidence did not support the jury's finding of conspiracy, and that there was no evidentiary basis for the jury's award of punitive damages. Finally, they ask the court to vacate the injunctive relief entered as to the new Chief of Police, since he was not Chief when these events occurred.

In ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50, Fed. R. Civ. P., the court must make "all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party and view[] the facts most favorably to that party." Lee ex rel. Lee v. Borders, 764 F.3d 966, 971 (8th Cir. 2014); see also In re Prempro Prods. Liab. Litig., 586 F.3d 547, 571 (8th Cir. 2009).

A motion for new trial under Rule 59, Fed. R. Civ. P., is appropriate "when the outcome is against the great weight of the evidence so as to constitute a miscarriage of justice." Bank of America N.A. v. JB Hanna, LLC, 766 F.3d 841, 851 (8th Cir. 2014). When the jury instructions are challenged, the question is "whether the jury instructions, taken as a whole, fairly and adequately represent the evidence and applicable law in light of the issues presented to the jury in a particular case." Lee, 764 F.3d at 972. Granting a new trial because of jury instructions "is only ...

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