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Riggs v. Life Care Centers of America Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 17, 2018

IRENE RIGGS, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
LIFE CARE CENTERS OF AMERICA, INC., a Tennessee Corporation, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL AND JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

          THOMAS O. RICE, Chief United States District Judge

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant's Motion for New Trial and Judgment as a Matter of Law. ECF No. 92. This matter was heard with telephonic oral argument on January 17, 2018. The Court has reviewed the record and files herein, and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for a New Trial and Judgment as a Matter of Law (ECF No. 92) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the discharge of Plaintiff Irene Riggs as executive director for Defendant Life Care Centers' Sandpoint facility, a long-term care facility in Idaho. ECF No. 1-2 at ¶¶ 1, 9-10. Plaintiff asserted that she was terminated in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) under RCW 49.60.210(1) and Washington State public policy after she reported sexual misconduct in the workplace by her supervisor, Tim Needles, and a subordinate employee, Nurse Caren Bays. Id. at ¶¶ 37-46; 31 at 2. Defendant contended that Plaintiff was discharged for abusing a resident. ECF No. 32 at 3.

         The jury entered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and judgment was entered on November 2, 2017. ECF No. 81. In the instant motion, Defendant requests a new trial on Ms. Riggs' retaliation claim and judgment in its favor on her claim of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.[1] ECF No. 92 at 1.

         DISCUSSION

         I. New Trial for the WLAD claim

         Motions for a new trial are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Under Rule 59, a court may grant a new trial “only if the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon false or perjurious evidence, or to prevent a miscarriage of justice.” Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Prods., Inc., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000). When ruling on a Rule 59 motion, the court must “weigh the evidence as [the court] saw it” and determine whether the jury's verdict is “contrary to the clear weight of the evidence.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotation and citation omitted). The court may not, however, grant a new trial “simply because it would have arrived at a different verdict.” Silver Sage Partners, Ltd. v. City of Desert Hot Springs, 251 F.3d 814, 819 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Here, Defendant requests a new trial for Ms. Riggs' retaliation claim, arguing that the clear weight of the evidence established that Ms. Riggs did not oppose sex discrimination or what she reasonably believed was sex discrimination. ECF No. 92 at 3. Under WLAD, an employee must show she had an objectively reasonable belief that her employer violated the law, not that the employer did in fact violate the law. Lodis v. Corbis Holdings, Inc., 172 Wash.App. 835, 852 (2013) (citing Ellis v. City of Seattle, 142 Wash.2d 450, 460-61 (2000)). There are two types of sexual discrimination claims cognizable under the WLAD: “the quid pro quo sexual harassment claim, where the employer requires sexual consideration from the employee for job benefits, and the hostile work environment claim.” Antonius v. King Cty., 153 Wash.2d 256, 261 (2004). The WLAD requires a “liberal construction of its provisions, ” cautioning against any construction that would narrow the coverage of the law. Lodis, 172 Wash.App. at 848 (citing RCW 49.60.020; Marquis v. City of Spokane, 130 Wash.2d 97, 108 (1996)).

         Defendant asserts that Ms. Riggs did not complain about quid pro quo harassment or a hostile work environment, but testified that she complained about a consensual relationship between Mr. Needles and Ms. Bays. ECF No. 92 at 3-4. Defendant contends that Ms. Riggs complained that Mr. Needles violated Life Care's Code of Conduct concerning superior-subordinate relationships, not a violation of the WLAD. Id. at 4. Defendant emphasizes that Ms. Riggs referenced unlawful conduct in one instance at trial:

A [Ms. Riggs]: I felt that he was violating the Code of Conduct and --
Q [Mr. Skidmore]: And --
A: I'm sorry. That's it.
Q: And what about the Code of Conduct did you tell him that you felt that ...

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