United States District Court, D. North Dakota
Dr. Robert J. Roswick, Plaintiff,
Mid Dakota Clinic, P.C., Defendant.
Ashwin Madia, Esq., Madia Law LLC,, Minneapolis, MN on behalf
K. Porsborg, Esq., and Sarah E. Wall, Esq., Smith Porsborg
Schweigert Armstrong Moldenhauer & Smith, Bismarck, ND,
on behalf of Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MONTGOMERY, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the undersigned United States District Judge
for rulings on Plaintiff Dr. Robert J. Roswick's
(“Dr. Roswick”) Motion for Attorney Fees and
Costs [Docket No. 227], Motion to Amend Judgment to Award
Equitable Relief [Docket No. 247], Motion to Alter Judgment
to Award Interest [Docket No. 251], and Motion for Partial
New Trial on Punitive Damages [Docket No. 254]. Also before
the Court are Defendant Mid Dakota Clinic, P.C.'s
(“MDC”) Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter
of Law [Docket No. 244] and Motion for New Trial, or in the
Alternative, Motion for Remittitur [Docket No. 246]. For the
reasons set forth below, Dr. Roswick's motions for
attorney fees, equitable relief, and interest are granted in
part, his motion for a partial new trial is denied, and
MDC's motions are denied.
March 7, 2017, Dr. Roswick filed this Title VII retaliation
case against his former employer, MDC. Dr. Roswick alleged he
was suspended by MDC's Board of Directors
(“Board”) and subsequently terminated by
MDC's physician shareholders in retaliation for opposing
MDC's “racially discriminatory actions”
allegedly taken against Dr. Jayaram Bharadwaj (“Dr.
Bharadwaj”), an Indian-American physician. Compl.
[Docket No. 1] ¶¶ 23, 34. Dr. Roswick's
suspension and termination was prompted by a January 21, 2015
email he sent to 26 shareholder physicians at MDC. In the
email, Dr. Roswick expressed concern that the Board did not
follow MDC's bylaws when it suspended Dr. Bharadwaj and
stated that “[n]o suspension has ever been handled this
way with a white American born doctor.” Trial Ex. P-278
[Docket No. 250, Attach. 3]. In addition to the Title VII
retaliation claim, Dr. Roswick asserted a claim against MDC
and its Board members for breach of fiduciary duty under
North Dakota law. Compl. ¶¶ 37-41.
denied the allegations in the Complaint and argued Dr.
Roswick was suspended and terminated for filing a false
complaint of discrimination, not for engaging in protected
conduct. MDC contended Dr. Roswick's false allegation was
the proverbial last straw in a history of disruptive behavior
by Dr. Roswick after his removal as president of the Board in
February 13, 2019, the Court granted Defendants' motion
for summary judgment on the breach of fiduciary duty claim,
and denied MDC's motion for summary judgment on the Title
VII claim. See Summ. J. Order [Docket No. 117].
Regarding the Title VII claim, the Court held that whether
MDC discharged Dr. Roswick because he engaged in protected
conduct, as Dr. Roswick argued, or because MDC believed in
good faith that Dr. Roswick made a knowingly false allegation
of discrimination, as MDC argued, raised a genuine issue of
fact. The Court explained:
As the Eighth Circuit has repeatedly recognized, an employer
cannot legitimately fire every “employee who files a
Title VII claim and is disbelieved, ” yet on the other
hand a plaintiff cannot “file false charges, lie to an
investigator, and possibly defame co-employees, without
suffering repercussions simply because the investigation was
about [discrimination].” Richey, 540 F.3d at
784 (quoting Gilooly v. Missouri Dep't of Health
& Senior Servs., 421 F.3d 734, 740 (8th Cir. 2005)).
“Differentiating individual cases between the two
extremes . . . is a difficult endeavor at the summary
judgment stage.” Id. (quoting
Gilooly, 421 F.3d at 740). The evidence here raises
a genuine issue of fact for a jury as to where in the
spectrum this case falls.
Id. at 18.
Roswick's retaliation claim was tried to a jury beginning
August 5, 2019. The trial spanned five days, and concluded
with a verdict on August 9, 2019. The twelve person jury
considered the testimony of 23 witnesses and 31 exhibits.
During trial, MDC moved for a directed verdict at the close
of Dr. Roswick's case, and Dr. Roswick moved for judgment
as a matter of law after the close of MDC's case. The
Court denied both motions. Over Dr. Roswick's objection,
the issue of punitive damages was not submitted to the jury
because the Court determined that the record lacked
sufficient evidence from which a jury could conclude that the
standard for awarding punitive damages had been met. The jury
verdict found in favor of Dr. Roswick, and awarded $1, 211,
851.00 in lost wages and benefits through the date of trial.
Verdict [Docket No. 222].
renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law.
Alternatively, MDC moves for a new trial or remittitur. Dr.
Roswick moves for attorney's fees and costs, front pay,
pre- and post-judgment interest, and a partial new trial on
the issue of punitive damages.
MDC's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of
renews its motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule
50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 50
authorizes the court to allow judgment on the verdict, order
a new trial, or direct the entry of judgment as a matter of
law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b)(1-3). The standard of review for
granting a Rule 50(b) motion is whether sufficient evidence
exists to support the jury verdict. “Judgment as a
matter of law is appropriate only when all of the evidence
points one way and is susceptible of no reasonable inference
sustaining the position of the nonmoving party.”
Allstate Indem. Co. v. Dixon, 932 F.3d 696, 702 (8th
Cir. 2019). In deciding a motion for judgment as a matter of
law, the court must:
(1) consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prevailing party, (2) assume that all conflicts in the
evidence were resolved in favor of the prevailing party, (3)
assume as proved all facts that the prevailing party's
evidence tended to prove, and (4) give the prevailing party
the benefit of all favorable inferences that may reasonably
be drawn from the facts proved. That done, the court must
then deny the motion if reasonable persons could differ as to
the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.
Washington v. Denney, 900 F.3d 549, 558-59 (8th Cir.
2018) (quoting Haynes v. Bee-Line Trucking
Co., 80 F.3d 1235, 1238 (8th Cir. 1996)).
prevail on his Title VII retaliation claim at trial, Dr.
Roswick was required to show (1) he engaged in protected
conduct; (2) he suffered a materially adverse employment
action; and (3) the materially adverse action was causally
connected to Dr. Roswick's protected conduct. Wright
v. St. Vincent Health Sys., 730 F.3d 732, 737 (8th Cir.
argues that the evidence at trial failed to demonstrate that
Dr. Roswick engaged in protected conduct or that the
protected conduct was the cause of Dr. Roswick's
suspension and termination.
employee engages in protected conduct under Title VII if the
employee opposes an employment practice and acts with a good
faith, objectively reasonable belief that the opposed
practices are unlawful. Bonn v. City of Omaha, 623
F.3d 587, 591 (8th Cir. 2010).
argues Dr. Roswick admitted he did not engage in protected
conduct because he believed only that the Board's actions
toward Dr. Bharadwaj could be interpreted as
discriminatory, not that the Board's actions actually
were discriminatory. However, Dr. Roswick testified
that he sent the January 2015 email for both reasons: he
believed discrimination was occurring, and he also wanted to
protect the clinic from liability because the Board's
actions could be perceived as discriminatory. Additionally, the
jury could have reasonably found Dr. Roswick was asserting
and opposing discrimination in his January 15, 2015 email,
because the Board itself stated in a letter to Dr. Roswick
that the Board “determined . . . [Dr. Roswick] actually
was asserting discrimination and racism.” Trial Ex.
P-327 [Docket No. 250, Attach. 8].
also argues the evidence shows Dr. Roswick did not engage in
protected conduct because he did not have a good faith,
objectively reasonable belief that MDC discriminated against
Dr. Bharadwaj. To support this argument, MDC relies on the
following evidence: Dr. Roswick declined to meet with
MDC's legal counsel to inform her of the facts supporting
his discrimination claim; Dr. Roswick sent MDC a letter
stating that he was merely suggesting the Board's actions
in suspending Dr. Bharadwaj could be interpreted as
discriminatory; Dr. Roswick admitted that physicians
frequently have an alternative version of events after being
disciplined than what actually occurred and that he was not
privy to the circumstances surrounding Dr. Bharadwaj's
suspension beyond what he had been told by Dr. Bharadwaj; and
Dr. Roswick referred to the widespread dissemination of his
January 15 email as an “OOOOpsie, ” which MDC
argues is not consistent with the actions of an individual
submitting a complaint of race discrimination in good faith.
MDC contends this evidence shows Dr. Roswick did not and
could not have submitted a good faith complaint of
discrimination, as he did not have a reasonable basis of
information to make such a claim.
these arguments was presented to and rejected by the jury.
The evidence, when construed in the light most favorable to
Dr. Roswick, was sufficient for a reasonable person to
conclude that Dr. Roswick's complaint was reasonable and
made in good faith. Although Dr. Roswick admitted he was not
privy to the reasons for Dr. Bharadwaj's suspension, Dr.
Roswick testified that he believed MDC was discriminating
against Dr. Bharadwaj by failing to provide him the same due
process that MDC previously afforded its physician
shareholders. Dr. Roswick further testified that he thought
the information told to him by Dr. Bharadwaj-that Dr.
Bharadwaj had been suspended and instructed by MDC's CEO
to resign prior to a shareholder vote-was true because the
information was corroborated by: 1) an email from MDC's
medical director to MDC shareholders saying Dr. Bharadwaj was
on leave; and 2) a patient telling Dr. Roswick that the
patient learned from the clinic that Dr. Bharadwaj would not
be returning. Thus, a reasonable jury could conclude from the
trial evidence that Dr. Roswick engaged in protected
MDC's Good Faith Belief Dr. Roswick Engaged in
also argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law
because Dr. Roswick's termination was based on a good
faith belief by MDC that Dr. Roswick engaged in misconduct,
not because of protected activity. MDC contends there was no
evidence at trial rebutting that MDC reasonably believed Dr.
Roswick engaged in misconduct when he asserted that the Board
was discriminating against Dr. Bharadwaj. None of the
shareholders who testified at trial and voted to terminate
Dr. Roswick believed that his complaint was made in good
faith. The shareholders were privy to the actual
circumstances of Dr. Bharadwaj's suspension. The
shareholders also knew of the disruptive behavior by Dr.
Roswick that occurred months before he complained of
discrimination. After sending the email, Dr. Roswick
attempted to minimize it instead of standing by it, thereby
signaling to the Board and shareholders that the alleged
complaint was not made in good faith and supported by facts.
these arguments were presented to and rejected by the jury.
When all reasonable inferences are construed in Dr.
Roswick's favor, the evidence supports a reasonable
conclusion that Dr. Roswick was terminated because he engaged
in protected activity, not because MDC reasonably believed he
filed a false claim of discrimination. The Board's
letters informing Dr. Roswick of the reason for his
suspension and termination did not state his discrimination
claim was knowingly false. Witnesses testified there was no
discussion of false statements at the shareholder meeting
where Dr. Roswick was terminated. Thus, reasonable persons
could differ over whether Dr. Roswick's termination was
based on a good faith belief by MDC that he filed a false
claim of discrimination.
MDC's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is
MDC's Motion for New Trial or Remittitur
contends it is entitled to a new trial, arguing the verdict
is against the weight of the evidence, the Court erroneously
excluded evidence, and Jury Instruction 18 was fatally
defective. The decision whether to grant a new trial under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) is committed to the
discretion of the district court. Pulla v. Amoco Oil
Co., 72 F.3d 648, 656 (8th Cir. 1995). “A new
trial is required only when necessary to avoid a miscarriage
of justice.” Gearin v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.,
53 F.3d 216, 219 (8th Cir. 1995) (citing McKnight v.
Johnson Controls, Inc., 36 F.3d 1396, 1400 (8th Cir.
1994)). “[T]he court is not free to set aside a jury
verdict and to grant a new trial merely because it believes
the jury could have drawn different inferences or that
another result would be more reasonable.” Washburn
v. Kansas City Life Ins. Co., 831 F.2d 1404, 1409 (8th
Cir. 1987). Additionally, inaccuracies or errors should not
serve as a basis for setting aside a verdict unless
prejudicial error is shown. Buchholz v. Rockwell
Int'l Corp., 120 F.3d 146, 148 (8th Cir. 1997).
Weight of the Evidence
court may only grant a new trial if it believes “that
the verdict was so contrary to the evidence as to amount to a
miscarriage of justice.” Butler v. French, 83
F.3d 942, 944 (8th Cir. 1996). “In determining whether
a verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the trial
court can . . . weigh the evidence, disbelieve witnesses, and
grant a new trial even where there is substantial evidence to
sustain the verdict.” White v. Pence, 961 F.2d
776, 780 (8th Cir.1992) (quotation marks omitted). However,
“a trial court may not grant a new trial simply because
the trial court would have found a verdict different from the
one the jury found.” Butler, 83 F.3d at 944.
Rather, “[t]he court should reject a jury's verdict
only where, after a review of all the evidence giving full
respect to the jury's verdict, the court is left with a
definite and firm conviction that the jury has erred.”
Ryan v. McDonough Power Equip., Inc., 734 F.2d 385,
387 (8th Cir.1984).
on the evidence at trial, the Court is not left with a firm
conviction that the jury has erred or the verdict is a
miscarriage of justice.
to trial, MDC filed a motion in limine asking the Court to
exclude testimony by Dr. Roswick and by non-decisionmakers at
MDC regarding Dr. Roswick's job performance. Dr. Roswick
opposed the motion, arguing the evidence was necessary to
rebut MDC's argument that Dr. Roswick had engaged in
disruptive behavior months before sending the January 2015
email. Dr. Roswick argued he was wrongly reprimanded in
October 2014 for disruptive behavior based on six incidents
that were not true, and that evidence of his job performance
was necessary to show that at the time MDC's shareholders
voted to terminate him they knew the incidents were false. In
reply, MDC argued:
The propriety of any discipline of Plaintiff prior to his
suspension is simply irrelevant to whether he was retaliated
against for a claim of discrimination. Again, this is a
retaliation action for a claim of discrimination, not a
wrongful termination action by Plaintiff for an untruthful
disciplinary action. Thus, exclusion of Plaintiff's
testimony and other non-decisionmakers regarding
Plaintiff's job performance is necessary to prevent the
jury from being confused as to the relevant issues to be
Def.'s Reply Mem. [Docket No. 127] at 2.
Court found MDC's reasoning persuasive and preliminarily
ruled in a Pretrial Order that “[t]he only relevance of
the six incidents is to show that the Board perceived Dr.
Roswick's behavior as disruptive. Therefore, evidence of
the facts and circumstances underlying the pre-October 2014
incidents is inadmissible. Evidence underlying the
pre-October 2014 incidents also threatens to confuse the jury
and cause undue delay by creating mini-trials on irrelevant
issues.” Pretrial Order [Docket No. 205] at 3. The
Pretrial Order stated the parties would have “an
opportunity for preserving objections to these rulings . . .
on the first day of trial.” Id. at 2.
first morning of trial, Dr. Roswick objected to this
evidentiary ruling but MDC did not. MDC accepted the ruling and
noted that the six incidents involved matters of peer review
and threatened to create six mini-trials within the case. MDC
then proposed that the Board's October 2014 letter of
reprimand be submitted to the jury with the specifics of the
six incidents redacted. The Court approved MDC's
proposal, and the redacted October 2014 letter was received
into evidence at trial. See Trial Ex. D-43 [Docket
No. 250, Attach. 10]. The unredacted portions of the letter,
which the jury was allowed to view, stated that Dr.
Roswick's actions over the past several months had been
disruptive, that the Board expected him to cease his
disruptive behavior going forward and “utilize proper
avenues to express [his] concerns, ” and that
“[i]f the disruptive behaviors do not cease the Board
may take disciplinary action which could result in employment
termination.” Id. Dr. Roswick's signature
acknowledging receipt of the letter was not redacted.
argues the Court erred by excluding evidence of the specific
facts and circumstances underlying the six pre-October 2014
incidents. MDC contends the Court excluded the evidence
sua sponte, and that if the jury had heard evidence
about the circumstances of the prior discipline the jury
would have understood the disruptive pattern of Dr.
Roswick's behavior and the ...