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Sayger v. Riceland Foods, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 18, 2013

Tony SAYGER, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
RICELAND FOODS, INC., Defendant-Appellee. Tony Sayger, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
Riceland Foods, Inc., Defendant-Appellant.

Submitted: Sept. 25, 2013.

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Lucien Ramseur Gillham, argued, Benton, AR, for appellant/cross-appellee.

Spencer F. Robinson, argued, Pine Bluff, AR, for appellee/cross-appellant.

Before MURPHY, MELLOY, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Tony Sayger brought this action against Riceland Foods under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII, the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, and other statutes, alleging retaliatory discharge after being a witness in an internal investigation into a complaint about a manager. After the district court [1] granted summary judgment to Riceland on Sayger's Title VII and ACRA claims, his § 1981 claim proceeded to trial. The jury awarded Sayger approximately $60,000 in compensatory damages and back pay. The district court denied both Riceland's motion for judgment as a matter of law and Sayger's motion for a new trial on punitive damages, but it granted in part Sayger's motion to amend the judgment to include equitable relief. Both parties appeal.

I.

Tony Sayger is a Caucasian hired in 1999 as a maintenance worker in the Riceland Foods rice division warehouse in Stuttgart, Arkansas. In 2009 Sayger was working in the Warehousing, Packaging, and Shipping (WPS) department. He later testified that he heard supervisor Ralph Crane frequently use offensive language about black employees. This included " calling them ‘ niggers,’ degrading their work, [and] saying they stunk." When Sayger asked him to stop, Crane just said " he would treat the niggers for what they were." According to Sayger, black employees were offended by Crane's remarks. There was also trial testimony from others about Crane's use of racist language, including from warehouse superintendent Rick Chance and several former Riceland employees.

In spring 2009 two of Sayger's white coworkers, Rick Turney and Randy Bennett, spoke to the division human resources manager, David Hoover, about filing a grievance for an incident in which Crane made offensive remarks. Hoover testified that he also checked with several other employees about the incident. Although one of them told Hoover that he had heard Crane use racist language, Crane said he did not remember when Hoover asked about it. Hoover did no further investigation after that point. Turney filed a grievance in April 2009, alleging that Crane had said that a black Riceland employee " smelled like a nigger."

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As Turney's supervisor, Crane was required to answer and sign the statement. Crane responded that he had " no recollection of having made those statements." Turney took the next step provided by the company grievance policy and submitted his grievance to the WPS manager, Martin Jones.

Jones then took statements from Randy Bennett and another Riceland employee who had been listed as a witness. Bennett confirmed Turney's allegation about Crane, but the other employee answered that he did not remember what had occurred. Bennett later testified that Jones had responded to his statement by asking, " Are you just trying to ruin [Crane's] career?" Jones concluded that " [i]nconsistent statements given by each witness do not support the alleged grievance." Therefore, " ...


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