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Joyce v. Town of Dennis

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 17, 2013

ELAINE JOYCE, Plaintiff, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
TOWN OF DENNIS, ET AL., Defendants, Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. [Hon. Nathaniel M. Gorton, U.S. District Judge]

Laura R. Studen, with whom Lawrence P. Murray, Jack S. Gearan, and Burns & Levinson LLP were on brief, for appellant/cross-appellee.

Leonard H. Kesten, with whom Deidre Brennan Regan and Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP were on brief, for appellees/cross-appellants.

Jonathan J. Margolis, Rodgers, Powers & Schwartz LLP, Ellen J. Messing, James S. Weliky, and Messing, Rudavsky & Weliky, P.C. on brief for amicus curiae Massachusetts Employment Lawyers Association.

Anne L. Josephson, Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP, Sarah Wunsch, and ACLU of Massachusetts on brief for amici curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, and the National Police Accountability Project.

Before Howard, Ripple, [*] and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

In May 2007, three days before plaintiff Elaine Joyce ("Joyce") expected to play golf with her father in a tournament at a town course in Dennis, Massachusetts, Joyce's father was told he would have to find another partner because women were not allowed in that "men's" tournament. The Town Administrator declined to reverse the course officials' decision, and Joyce subsequently brought federal and state claims alleging gender discrimination against the Town, the golf course, and several individuals. The district court granted summary judgment in her favor and thereafter held a trial on damages. This appeal addresses only the nature and extent of her remedy. Joyce claims that the district court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on punitive damages, denying injunctive relief, and awarding attorney's fees in an amount substantially less than her request. The defendants claim that the court erred in concluding that Joyce was a prevailing party entitled to any attorney's fees.

We find no error in the court's treatment of punitive damages, but must remand for further proceedings on injunctive relief and attorney's fees. We reject the defendants' contention that the court should not have awarded any attorney's fees and instead conclude that the court erred in reducing the requested award based on, inter alia, Joyce's rejection of a settlement offer. The district court also must revisit the issue of injunctive relief and explain its decision to grant or refuse such relief.

I.

We recount in some detail the circumstances underlying Joyce's complaint of gender discrimination, as well as the procedural history of the case. Although appellees do not challenge the district court's finding of liability, the court's rulings on punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees must be reviewed in the context of the litigation as a whole.

A. The Events at Dennis Pines

Elaine Joyce is an avid and proficient golfer who signed up with her father in April 2007 to play in a tournament at the Dennis Pines Golf Course the first weekend in May.[1] The tournament was listed on the course schedule as a men's members-only event. Both Joyce and her father, Patrick, are members of the course and, in the fall of 2006, had been assigned a tee time for a similar tournament that was rained out.[2]

On May 2, 2007 -- three days before the start of the tournament -- the Town's head golf pro, Russell Champoux, called Patrick Joyce and told him that the Golf Advisory Committee ("GAC"), a volunteer group responsible for course policy, had decided that his daughter could not play in the Dennis Pines men's tournament because of her gender. Joyce was never contacted directly by Dennis Pines, but after her father relayed the news to her, she sent an email to the Town Administrator, Robert Canevazzi, seeking his help "to make certain that this discriminatory practice is not condoned by the Town of Dennis or any of its committees." In her message, sent early on May 3, Joyce asked Canevazzi to "act promptly to get the current decision reversed" so that she could play in the weekend tournament. Joyce contacted Canevazzi because she had had a similar experience at a golf course in another town. After a prolonged effort to persuade club officials in that town to allow her to join a men's league, she was finally able to secure a policy change through the town administrator.

Canevazzi replied to Joyce later the same day. He reported that he had spoken to Champoux and members of the GAC, and he had decided to uphold Joyce's exclusion from the tournament because changing the rules so late "would not be fair to the 1600 plus members of the Dennis Golf Courses who may either desire or not desire to play in such a tournament." In addition, he noted that the Tournament Committee (a subcommittee of the GAC) had sought to schedule more women's tournaments "to allow greater opportunities for women to have such competitive events." He stated that he did not view the club's tournament policies to be discriminatory, but nonetheless had asked the chairman of the GAC to include discussion of the criteria for tournament participation at its May 14 meeting. Canevazzi did not expressly invite Joyce to attend that meeting, but he told her its time and location.

The GAC's chairman, Jim Horvath, sent Joyce an email on May 4, in which he apologized for "any confusion and inconvenience that you encountered in how you learned about your non-participation in this weekend's golf event." He explained that the GAC had voted in December to approve the schedule of tournaments set up by the Tournament Committee and the head golf professional. He wrote that, "[t]o me, it was clear then that there were balanced opportunities for both men and women to play in the first 3 events of this year, " and noted, "I think that is still the case."[3] He continued:

As chairman of the GAC, I welcome open discussion on this matter and have placed it on the May 14 Golf Advisory Committee agenda (as Bob Canevazzi indicated to you yesterday). The meeting is at 5pm at Dennis Highlands. I hope that you can attend. Please don't hesitate to contact me in the interim.

Horvath then thanked Joyce "for bringing this issue to our attention."

Joyce did not contact Horvath or attend the May 14 meeting. At that meeting, the GAC voted to ask the Tournament Committee to make a recommendation on the gender-based tournament policy and report back to the GAC "as soon as possible." At its next meeting, on June 11, the GAC accepted the Tournament Committee's recommendation that no changes be made to the 2007 schedule and that, beginning in 2008, every tournament would have a women's field.[4] Creating separate divisions was consistent with the opinion of Town Counsel as reported by Canevazzi at the meeting. According to Canevazzi, counsel had expressed "alarm[]" that the course policy "could be perceived as discriminatory" and stated that "it must be made more gender-neutral offering more women['s] divisions within the Tournaments." But Champoux, the club pro, observed at the meeting that the change would not resolve Joyce's complaint, which stemmed from her desire to play with the men -- and not in a parallel division for women. At the GAC's July meeting, the "Gender Based Policy" issue was tabled because "no additional information ha[d] been received."

B. The Administrative Complaint and Aftermath

Frustrated by the response to her concerns, Joyce filed a pro se complaint in July 2007 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD") against the Town of Dennis and Canevazzi. After the filing, an attorney representing the Town, Kristin Harris, called Joyce twice and left messages asking her to call to discuss the dispute. Joyce did not respond. She also did not respond to a letter Harris sent her referencing the MCAD's mediation process, though Joyce asked the Commission if she was obliged to talk to the Town and was advised to wait until the Town filed its position statement.[5]

The GAC again acted on the gender policy at its October 2007 meeting. After Horvath reported that the United States Golfing Association ("USGA") allows women to play in all events "as long as they play exactly the same as a man, " the GAC voted unanimously to instruct the Tournament Committee to follow the USGA rules for all 2008 tournaments. This was the tournament policy that Joyce originally had sought, allowing women to play alongside men.[6] Although no general announcement of the change in policy was communicated to members, [7] the 2008 Tournament Information Packet included a statement (which did not appear in the 2007 Packet) advising that "[a]ll tournaments will follow USGA guidelines for participation."[8] Canevazzi acknowledged that he would not have understood from that statement that a change in gender policy had occurred, although -- in another revision of the 2007 Packet -- the 2008 tournament schedule eliminated the gender labels in the listings of members-only tournaments.

The Town filed its MCAD position statement on November 2, 2007, without mentioning the October vote. Canevazzi, who signed the document, testified that the statement had been prepared weeks earlier, and he had failed to realize that it did not reflect the October meeting when he signed it. The MCAD statement denied that the facts showed "discrimination of any kind, " and noted that "once the Complainant's concern was brought to the Respondents' attention, the Respondents[] immediately evaluated the tournament schedule with the Golf Advisory Committee and agreed to modify the schedule, such that all tournaments would include a men's and women's division beginning in 2008."

Joyce then hired an attorney, who filed a rebuttal to the defendants' statement in early January 2008. After receiving the rebuttal, Harris, the Town's attorney, placed a call to Joyce's attorney and left a message requesting an opportunity to discuss the matter. Joyce's attorney later reported that she was unaware of that message.

C. The Litigation

On February 15, 2008, Joyce filed a complaint in federal court against the Town, its golf courses, Canevazzi, and three course professionals, [9] alleging, inter alia, gender discrimination under federal and state law.[10] A media relations consultant hired by Joyce's counsel notified the news media of the lawsuit, which was filed on the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend. The suit quickly generated national publicity, including an article in The New York Times on February 19. See Marcia Chambers, Barred From Men's-Only Event, Woman Sues Public Golf Club, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/sports/golf/19links.html?_r=0. The article reported that neither Canevazzi nor Harris returned the reporter's phone calls on February 18, which was the Presidents' Day holiday.[11]

A few days later, an attorney for the Town called Joyce's attorney and noted that, as a result of the GAC vote the previous October, Joyce could play golf at Dennis Pines whenever and with whomever she chose. In a follow-up letter in mid-March, defense counsel suggested trying "to resolve this matter in the best interests of our clients" and stated that the Town was "prepared to notify all members explicitly that women are welcome to play in all events, as long as they play from the same tees as the other competitors and have their handicaps adjusted accordingly." The letter solicited reaction from Joyce and her attorney on the Town's proposals. Defense counsel also pledged to investigate Joyce's allegation that she had been intimidated by "defendants and other male members" when playing at Dennis Pines after lodging her MCAD complaint, stating that "[m]y clients and I want to ensure that Ms. Joyce has a pleasant experience participating in all golfing events in the Town of Dennis." Joyce's counsel's lengthy response, dated March 31, concluded as follows:

[N]either Ms. Joyce nor the Club membership has received a clear and unequivocal statement against gender discrimination, and the affirmative duty is upon the Defendants to propose a plan that addresses the issues that will otherwise be sought in a court ordered permanent injunction. Be assured that Ms. Joyce intends to pursue her damages, including punitive damages. If the Defendants wish to make a settlement proposal at this juncture it may be prudent given that the attorneys' fees continue to escalate, and these are also recoverable by Ms. Joyce. Once we have received your answer, I would like to schedule depositions.

Defendants filed their answer to the complaint on May 28, 2008, and the ...


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