BLUE v. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS (April 2, 2012)
Susan Blue had an outstanding performance record as an administrative assistant at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for thirty years until early 2006. It was then that Alexander Phillips filed a race discrimination complaint against the Union. When she questioned her immediate supervisor about what she perceived as discrimination, Blue alleges that he started treating her differently. He changed her job responsibilities, denied her overtime, disciplined her for minor infractions, accused her of being excessively tardy, and suspended her without pay. Blue ended up taking medical leave and filed a federal complaint. After a jury trial, Blue was awarded over $200,000 in damages. Chief Judge Conley (W.D. Wis.) entered judgment on August 9, 2010. At the request of the Union, and without Blue's opposition, Conley later extended the post-trial motion deadline. The Union filed Rule 50(b) and Rule 59(a) motions on September 10. The court denied both motions. The Union appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Rovner, Wood, and Williams affirmed. The Court first turned to its jurisdiction. It noted that an appeal was not filed within the requisite 30-day period but that the timely filing of certain post-trial motions tolls the beginning of the period. But here, the Union did not file its a post-trial motions within the 28-day period required by Rules 50 and 59. Although the district court purported to extend the 28-day deadline, the Court noted that it was prohibited from doing so. Since the motions were not timely, they did not affect the time within which the Union had to appeal from the underlying judgment. Therefore, the Union's only appeal is from the district court's denial of the two motions. The Court rejected the Union's request to consider Blue's failure to object to the extension as a reason to allow the tolling. It sided with authority from the Third Circuit, rather than the Sixth, on that question. The Court turned to a second jurisdictional issue -- whether the district court even had the authority to rule on the untimely motions. Since Rule 50 and 59's timeliness were not set by Congress but were set by the Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, they are claims processing rules and not jurisdictional. The district court therefore had the authority to consider the motions. Although the district court had the authority to consider the motions, its authority is provided by Rule 60, not by Rules 50 or 59. The only possible relief under Rule 60 is the "exceptional circumstances" standard in rule 60(b)(6). The Union argues that it meets that standard because the district court admitted parts of Phillips' case file into evidence and because there was insufficient evidence to support the verdict. The Court rejected both arguments. It found the Phillips' evidence relevant to Blue's burden to show a causal relationship between her involvement in Phillips' case and her treatment. The Court did not abuse its discretion in allowing it. It also found "more than sufficient" evidence to support the jury verdict.