Submitted: January 16, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Arkansas - Little Rock
BENTON, MELLOY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
trial, a jury awarded Adrian Bryant nominal compensatory
damages and $250, 000 in punitive damages for his claim of
hostile work environment against his former employer, Jeffrey
Sand Company. The district court denied Jeffrey Sand's
post-trial motions and granted Bryant's motion for
attorney's fees. Jeffrey Sand appeals, and we affirm.
recite the facts ascertained at trial, viewed in the light
most favorable to the jury's verdict. Morse v. S.
Union Co., 174 F.3d 917, 920 (8th Cir. 1999). Bryant
worked from 2009 to 2013 for Jeffrey Sand as a deckhand on
the Cora, a barge that dredges sand from the
Arkansas River. During this period, Bryant's co-workers
on the Cora were the foreman, Jerry Skaggs; the
pumper, Donald Lambert; and another deckhand, Chad Bateman.
Bryant was the only black employee on the barge.
evidence at trial revealed that Skaggs, Bryant's direct
supervisor, engaged in a pattern of racially-motivated abuse.
Skaggs taunted Bryant with racial slurs, calling him
"nigger," "Kunte Kinte," "spear
chucker," "monkey," "bitch,"
"porch monkey," and "boy," among other
names. On at least some occasions, he uttered these epithets
in the presence of other employees. Skaggs would give Bryant
difficult tasks that he would not assign to the
Cora's white employees. Lambert testified that
"a number of times," Skaggs would "get up in
[Bryant's] face and use his chest to push [Bryant] around
trying to get [Bryant] to fight him."
complained to his plant manager, Ken Bolton, twice and to the
then-president of the company, Joe Wickliffe, four times
regarding Skaggs's behavior. He testified that he
received no response to his complaints. Bolton testified
that, in response to a complaint from Bryant on May 4, 2012,
he sent another employee, Randy Marshall, to the
Cora for a few days in an attempt to corroborate
Bryant's allegation that Skaggs was using racial slurs.
After Marshall reported back that he had not heard any slurs,
Bolton did no further investigation. Bolton did not attempt
to interview Bryant or any other employees. Jeffrey Sand has
no written anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policy and
no human resources personnel.
testified that the harassment persisted and that he continued
to make complaints after May 2012. He testified about a
particular incident on August 7, 2012, when Skaggs made him
paint rails in the hot sun and would not allow him to come
into the air-conditioned part of the barge or to access
water. When Bryant attempted to get out of the sun and told
Skaggs that he felt ill, Skaggs responded, "[G]o out
there and paint those rails like I told your black ass
to," and sent him back outside. Bryant felt lightheaded
and experienced chest pains, so he went to Lambert for help.
Lambert measured Bryant's blood pressure, which was very
high, and convinced Skaggs to call an ambulance. It was later
determined that Bryant had suffered a heart attack, and he
did not return to work for two weeks.
January 30, 2013, Clay McGeorge, then the sales director (and
now the president) of Jeffrey Sand, received an anonymous
email stating: "Hi Clay I want to remain anonymous but I
would like to inform you about the racist comments I've
overheard the foreman on dredge Cora make."
McGeorge alerted Wickliffe and Bolton to the email and Bolton
interviewed several employees. Lambert corroborated that
Skaggs had made racist comments toward Bryant, but Bolton
discounted Lambert as merely a disgruntled employee. Several
other employees told Bolton that they had heard second-hand
about Skaggs using racial slurs. Bateman, the other deckhand,
later admitted that he had authored the anonymous email. He
testified that he had not heard Skaggs make racist comments
personally, but had heard Bryant complaining about it and
believed Bryant's accusations. Bolton did not interview
Bryant as part of his investigation. The company took no
disciplinary action against Skaggs.
Sand fired Bryant shortly after the investigation into the
email, purportedly for absenteeism. Bryant brought this suit
under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 on July 13, 2016, alleging a
racially hostile work environment and retaliatory
termination. The district court granted summary judgment in
favor of Jeffrey Sand on the retaliation claim but allowed
the hostile-work-environment claim to proceed to trial. The
jury found in Bryant's favor and awarded him $1.00 in
compensatory damages and $250, 000 in punitive damages. The
district court denied Jeffrey Sand's post-trial motions
for judgment as a matter of law and to amend the award of
punitive damages. It also granted Bryant's motion for
$64, 432.50 in attorney's fees and $1, 028.15 in costs.
Jeffrey Sand appeals.
Sand argues it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law
because there was insufficient evidence to charge punitive
damages to the jury and because Bryant's claim is
time-barred. We review the district court's denial of
Jeffrey Sand's motion de novo, viewing the facts in the
light most favorable to Bryant and drawing all reasonable
inferences in his favor. Weitz Co. v. MacKenzie House,
LLC, 665 F.3d 970, 974 (8th Cir. 2012). Judgment as a
matter of law is proper if "a party has been fully heard
on an issue and there ...