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Mukherjee v. The Children's Mercy Hospital

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

July 9, 2018




         Pending is Plaintiff's Motion for a New Trial. Doc. #161. At conclusion of trial, the jury rendered verdicts in favor of Defendant on all of Plaintiff's claims. Docs. #154-55. Plaintiff now raises ten bases for her request for a new trial. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

         I. STANDARD

         The Court may grant a new trial on some or all of the issues after a jury trial “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). A new trial under Rule 59 “is warranted when the outcome is against the great weight of the evidence so as to constitute a miscarriage of justice.” Bank of Am., N.A., v. JB Hanna LLC, 766 F.3d 841, 851 (8th Cir. 2014). In making this determination, the court relies on its reading of the evidence, including weighing the evidence and evaluating the credibility of witnesses. Lincoln Composites, Inc. v. Firetrace USA, LLC, 825 F.3d 453, 459 (8th Cir. 2016).


         A. Alleged Hearsay Regarding Plaintiff's Performance

         Plaintiff argues individuals' statements about her work performance should have been excluded at trial because the statements were offered for the truth of the matters asserted therein, and therefore, constituted hearsay. Plaintiff generally refers to statements, but fails to identify a specific statement by a particular witness or an exhibit that should not have been admitted. Nonetheless, Plaintiff maintains the jury's verdicts were influenced by and she was prejudiced by the admission of these statements.

         “Unless justice requires otherwise, no error in admitting or excluding evidence…is ground for granting a new trial….” Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. Where the moving party complains about an evidentiary ruling, the court must determine whether the “ruling was so prejudicial as to require a new trial which would be likely to produce a different result.” Sec., Inc. v. Comprehensive Software Sys., Inc., 406 F.3d 1052, 1058-59 (8th Cir. 2005).

         The parties addressed this issue in their trial briefs (Docs. #122, 125), and reiterate their arguments in their briefing of the pending motion. Prior to the commencement of trial, the Court concluded the statements were not hearsay. The Court's decision followed Eighth Circuit precedent. See Wolff v. Brown, 128 F.3d 682, 685 (8th Cir. 1997) (holding “internal documents relied upon by the employer in making an employment decision are not hearsay, ” and are “admissible because they help explain…the employer's conduct); Hardie v. Cotter & Co., 849 F.2d 1097, 1011 (8th Cir. 1988) (finding customer complaints were not hearsay and were properly admitted because the complaints demonstrated the employer's state of mind when it decided to discharge its employee).

         Defendant did not offer the statements for the truth of the matters asserted therein. Instead, Defendant offered the statements to show its belief that Plaintiff was failing to meet performance expectations, and the impact the statements had on personnel decisions. With the admission of each statement, the Court provided a limiting instruction informing the jury it was not to consider the statement for the truth of the matter asserted therein but only as to whether Defendant had a nondiscriminatory, non-retaliatory reason for discharging Plaintiff.[1] The Court discerns no evidentiary error, much less an error that so prejudiced Plaintiff to require a new trial. Plaintiff's motion for a new trial based upon this ground is denied.

         B. After-Acquired Evidence

         Plaintiff argues the admission of after-acquired evidence constitutes reversible error. First, Plaintiff contends Defendant failed to present sufficient evidence of a specific policy she violated, and to the extent a policy was identified, Defendant failed to show Plaintiff's conduct was a terminable offense. Second, Plaintiff argues the evidence was not “after-acquired.” According to Plaintiff, Defendant knew she was sending documents to her private email account because it told her she could do so.[2] Third, Plaintiff claims the after-acquired evidence was related to her complaints, and therefore, cannot serve as a defense. That is, if Defendant had not allegedly harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against her, Plaintiff never would have used her private email to communicate those actions. Finally, Plaintiff avers the evidence should have been excluded under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence because any probative value was outweighed by the prejudicial effect on Plaintiff.[3]

         As set forth supra, the Court must determine whether the admission of after-acquired evidence was so prejudicial as to require a new trial that would likely produce a different result. Sec., Inc., 406 F.3d at 1058-59. The Court finds the admission of after-acquired evidence was not prejudicial, and was not so prejudicial that a retrial (excluding said evidence) would likely produce a different result. Further, no miscarriage of justice occurred with the admission of this evidence. Tellingly, because the jury found Plaintiff did not establish the essential elements of any of her claims, the jury never reached the after-acquired evidence issue. For these reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion for new trial based upon the admission of after-acquired evidence.

         C. Warren Dudley's Departure from Employment with Defendant

         Plaintiff argues the Court erred in excluding evidence of the circumstances surrounding Warren Dudley's departure from Defendant in 2016. Plaintiff claims this evidence was relevant to her disparate treatment claims (which included her discharge in 2014) and the credibility of Defendant's witnesses. Plaintiff contends Dudley, who was her supervisor, was “the central player, ” and therefore, his credibility, alleged lack of performance, and alleged behavioral problems were relevant.

         The Court first addressed this issue in its Order in Limine. Doc. #116. The Court determined Dudley's receipt of a severance agreement was not relevant and would not be permitted. Id. at 7. But the Court deferred consideration of whether the circumstances surrounding Dudley's separation were relevant to Plaintiff's claims. Id. The Court instructed the parties to ...

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