United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Richard E. Fradette, Esq., Robert S. Mantell, Esq., Holly A.
Stevens, Esq., Lauren S. Irwin, Esq., Joseph A. Lazazzero,
Esq., Christopher B. Kaczmarek, Esq.
J. MCAULIFFE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
McPadden brought suit against her former employer, Wal-Mart
Stores East, L.P. (“Walmart”), advancing numerous
state and federal workplace discrimination claims. Following
a five-day trial, a jury found in favor of McPadden on four
of those claims and awarded her more than $31.2 million in
compensatory, enhanced compensatory, and punitive damages.
Walmart moves for judgment as a matter of law on all claims
or, in the alternative, seeks a new trial. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b) and 59. Should those motions be denied,
Walmart moves for remittitur. McPadden objects.
reasons discussed, Walmart's motion for judgment as a
matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial is denied.
Its motion for remittitur of the jury's award of
compensatory damages is denied, while its motion to remit the
jury's award of punitive damages and enhanced
compensatory damages is denied without prejudice to refiling
after the New Hampshire Supreme Court has answered the
certified questions this court proposes to submit to it.
Finally, the jury's advisory verdict on plaintiff's
front pay claim is not accepted, and the court enters a
substantially reduced front pay award.
Court of Appeals has observed, “[a] party seeking to
overturn a jury verdict faces an uphill battle.”
Marcano Rivera v. Turabo Med. Ctr. P'ship, 415
F.3d 162, 167 (1st Cir. 2005). To prevail on a motion for
judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50, the moving party
must demonstrate that “the evidence points so strongly
and overwhelmingly in favor of the moving party that no
reasonable jury could have returned a verdict adverse to that
party.” Keisling v. SER-Jobs for Progress,
Inc., 19 F.3d 755, 759-60 (1st Cir. 1994). Under Rule
59, “[a] district court may set aside the jury's
verdict and order a new trial only if the verdict is against
the law, against the weight of the credible evidence, or
tantamount to a miscarriage of justice.”
Casillas-Diaz v. Palau, 463 F.3d 77, 81 (1st Cir.
2006). See also Jones ex rel. United States v. Mass. Gen.
Hosp., 780 F.3d 479, 492 (1st Cir. 2015) (“A new
trial may be warranted if the verdict is against the weight
of the evidence or if the action is required in order to
prevent injustice.”) (citations and internal
the court may, in its discretion, impose a remittitur when it
is persuaded that the jury's damage award “exceeds
any rational appraisal or estimate of the damages that could
be based upon the evidence before it, ” Wortley v.
Camplin, 333 F.3d 284, 297 (1st Cir. 2003), or when the
evidence supporting the jury's award is “so
thin” that the award is “vastly out of
proportion” to the maximum recovery for which there is
evidentiary support, Trainor v. HEI Hospitality,
LLC, 699 F.3d 19, 32 (1st Cir. 2012). Moreover, the
court of appeals has held that, “[i]n cases of
noneconomic injury, such as emotional distress, remittitur
requires further finding that the award is so grossly
disproportionate to any injury established by the evidence as
to be unconscionable as a matter of law.”
Climent-Garcia v. Autoridad de Transporte Maritimo y Las
Islas Municipio, 754 F.3d 17, 21 n.1 (1st Cir. 2014)
(citations and internal punctuation omitted).
McPadden had been a long-term employee of Walmart, where she
worked as a licensed pharmacist at various stores, including
locations in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. In
2010, she began working at the Walmart pharmacy in Seabrook,
New Hampshire. As an employee of the Seabrook store, McPadden
had a minor, but unremarkable disciplinary history. Her
performance evaluations were generally satisfactory, but
equally unremarkable. According to Walmart, when McPadden
lost a key to the pharmacy she had been issued, it decided
that lapse, in light of her disciplinary history, warranted
her discharge. And, says Walmart, that is the only reason her
employment was terminated.
jury rejected Walmart's proffered explanation for its
decision to fire McPadden and concluded, instead, that
Walmart had been motivated by unlawful gender-based
discrimination. The jury also concluded that Walmart
retaliated against McPadden for reporting what she honestly
believed were serious violations of the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act (also known as
“HIPAA”) and/or for complaining about
prescription errors and safety issues related to staffing
deficiencies. Accordingly, the jury found in favor of
McPadden on her gender discrimination claims (under both
Title VII and New Hampshire's Law Against
Discrimination), her New Hampshire retaliation/ whistleblower
claim arising out of her reports of alleged HIPAA violations
and safety issues, and her state common law wrongful
the jury was generous in awarding damages would substantially
understate the magnitude of its award - particularly given
that McPadden presented a case of gender discrimination and
wrongful termination that, while viable, was not particularly
dramatic or severe when compared to the norm. Indeed, after
hearing all the evidence, the court noted that, “I
certainly don't see this as a particularly strong case.
In fact, I think it's probably the weakest case that I
can remember ever sending to a jury.” Trial Transcript,
Day 5, Vol. 1, at 18. Nevertheless, the jury, as was its
prerogative, saw it differently and awarded McPadden damages
Back Pay (all claims) $ 164, 093.00
Front Pay (all claims) $ 558, 392.87
Compensatory Damages (all claims) $ 500, 000.00
Punitive Damages (Title VII) $ 15, 000, 000.00
Enhanced Compensatory Damages (state gender discrimination) $