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Nassar v. Jackson

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 3, 2015

Ray Nassar, Ph.D.; Gena Smith, Plaintiffs - Appellees
v.
Earnestine Jackson, Individually & in her official capacity as a Hughes School Board member, Defendant - Appellant Jimmy Wilkins, Individually & in his Capacity as Superintendent of the Hughes School District, Defendant Hughes School District, Defendant - Appellant Hughes School Board, Members in their Official Capacities; Rudolph Robinson, in Official Capacity as member of Hughes School Board; Demarcus Burks, in Official Capacity as member of Hughes School Board; Leitha Cupples, in Official Capacity as member of Hughes School Board; Irene Combs, in Official Capacity as member of Hughes School Board; Jeff Spaletta, in Official Capacity as member of Hughes School Board; W E Duckworth, in Official Capacity as member of Hughes School Board, Defendants

Submitted September 8, 2014

Page 548

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Jonesboro.

For Ray Nassar, phD, Gena Smith, Plaintiffs - Appellees: Brian Gene Brooks, Greenbrier, AR; Austin Hayes Easley, B. Michael Easley, Easley & Houseal, Forrest City, AR.

For Earnestine Jackson, Individually & in her official capacity as a Hughes School Board member, Hughes School District, Defendants - Appellants: David L. Jones, Gary D. Marts Jr., Wright & Lindsey, Little Rock, AR; James Fitzgerald Valley, J F Valley, Esq, P.A., Helena, AR.

Before BYE, COLLOTON, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 549

GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

Believing that the school district of Hughes, Arkansas (" school district" ) fired them because of their race, Ray Nassar and Gena Smith sued and won under several legal theories. The school district and one school-board member, Earnestine Jackson, now appeal several orders of the district court. We affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.

I.

The school district hired Ray Nassar as superintendent in 2008. While superintendent, Nassar hired Gena Smith as a business manager. The school district renewed Nassar's contract for the three years running from July 1, 2010 until June 30, 2013. Over those three years, the contract provided for a total salary of $274,000, plus benefits.

Both Nassar and Smith are white. After the racial composition of the school board shifted from a white majority to an African-American majority, Nassar's already-poor relationship with two African-American board members deteriorated further. One of those board members was Earnestine Jackson. At one public meeting, she referred to Smith as Nassar's " girlfriend," though both Nassar and Smith are married to other people. Jackson also said at a meeting that Nassar " lie[s]." The hostility devolved into a profanity-laced exchange, and soon after, on February 8, 2011, the school district fired Nassar without a hearing. A few months later, the school district fired Smith, also without a hearing.

Page 550

Nassar and Smith sued the school district, Jackson, and others, alleging violations of due process, unlawful racial discrimination, and breach of contract. Nassar and Smith both claimed that Jackson's " girlfriend" comment was defamatory, and Nassar individually complained of Jackson's saying that he " lie[s]." The district court granted partial summary judgment for Nassar and Smith on the due-process claims, reserving the remaining claims and the determination of damages for trial.

At trial, an economist testified to different measures of Nassar's damages from losing his job. The net salary and benefits lost between the date of Nassar's firing and the trial were worth $195,639.38. During cross-examination, the economist valued at about $50,000 the salary and benefits that would have remained on Nassar's contract from the time of the trial until the contract would have expired. Thus, Nassar's damages to the end of his contract totaled about $245,639.38. The economist also testified that the present value of Nassar's lost salary, lost benefits, and added travel costs for seven years after trial was $283,577.77. The school district and Jackson did not object to the testimony about future damages.

After the close of all the evidence, the defendants moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) for judgment as a matter of law, citing only " the plaintiffs' failure to carry their burden." The court denied the motion and instructed the jury on the measure of damages appropriate under each of Nassar's and Smith's claims. The court further instructed the jury to reduce its awards so as not to duplicate recovery for the same misconduct.

The jury found for Nassar and Smith on all claims. Specifically finding that Nassar would not have been fired had the school district provided a proper hearing, the jury awarded Nassar $340,000 on his due-process claim--more than he would have earned in salary and benefits through the end of the term of his contract--$1.00 on his discrimination claim, and $1.00 on his contract claim.[1] The defendants then renewed under Rule 50(b) their motion for judgment as a matter of law, claiming for the first time with specificity that the discrimination claims failed for insufficient evidence of racial ...


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