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Lewis v. Goodwill Industries of Northern New England

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

July 2, 2018

GLADSTONE O. LEWIS, Plaintiff
v.
GOODWILL INDUSTRIES OF NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Lance E. Walker, Justice

         Before the Court is Defendant Goodwill Industries of Northern New England's ("Goodwill") motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiff Gladstone Lewis ("Lewis") has opposed this motion. The Court has considered the parties' filings, and for the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         The following facts, which are material to the present motion, are drawn from Goodwill's Statement of Material Facts and are undisputed by Lewis. Lewis was hired by Goodwill in 2002 as a primary advocate, or, as his position was titled at the time of his termination, a direct support professional. (Def s. S .M.F. ¶ 1.) In that position, he was responsible for providing support to adult residents in Goodwill's residential program, primarily through aiding residents with activities of daily living. (Id. ¶ 2.) Lewis was placed on administrative leave beginning February 28, 2016, pending completion of an investigation into allegations that Lewis had engaged in client abuse. (Id. ¶ 4.) Following the investigation, Lewis's employment was terminated effective March 3, 2016. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         Since at least 2007, Lewis has also been a shared living provider for Residential Resources Inc. (Id. ¶ 10.) In this role, Lewis hosts an adult client in his home and provides meals, transportation, and other support. (Id.) In exchange for providing this service, Lewis receives an annual stipend of $27, 000 and approximately $600 per month for room and board. (Id.) Since his departure from Goodwill, Lewis has obtained employment as a commissary representative, distributing commissary to prisoners for approximately five hours per week. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.)

         On February 27, 2017, Lewis filed a complaint in this Court against Goodwill for racial discrimination and retaliation. Goodwill filed the present motion on May 9, 2018. Goodwill's primary purpose in bringing this motion is to request Lewis be precluded from pursuing a claim for front pay and back pay due to his alleged failure to mitigate his damages. Goodwill also requests Lewis's jury demand be stricken because Lewis did not pay the jury deposit fee.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, based on the parties' statements of material facts and the cited record, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(c); Dyer v. Dep't of Transp., 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821. "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact exists when the factfinder must choose between competing versions of the truth." Dyer, 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         When, as here, the party with the burden moves for summary judgment, the movant has the burden of establishing each element of its claim without dispute as to any material fact in the record. See Cach, LLC v. Kulas, 2011 ME 70, ¶ 8, 21 A.3d 1015. If the motion for summary judgment is properly supported, the burden shifts to the non-movant to respond with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial. See M.R. Civ. P. 56(e). If the non-movant fails to properly respond, the movant's factual assertions will not be deemed admitted merely because of the non-movant's failure to respond. Cach, LLC, 2011 ME 70, ¶ 9, 21 A.3d 1015. The movant must still properly support each factual assertion with citation to the record and therefore still has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. M.R. Civ. P. 56(h)(4); Cach, LLC, 2011 ME 70, ¶ 9, 21 A.3d 1015.

         III. Discussion

         Goodwill brings this motion under the theory that Lewis has failed to properly mitigate his damages, contending that Lewis has willfully removed himself from the job market in the field of direct support services during the pendency of this litigation and has not made a reasonable effort to find employment in any other field. (Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 2.) Consequently, Goodwill moves this Court to grant partial summary judgment against Lewis by finding Lewis is precluded from pursuing damages of back pay or front pay. (Id.) Lewis's position is that he has diligently applied for employment, but that a number of factors have affected his employability, including his age, his time constraints due to his position as a shared living provider, and the fact that he was terminated from Goodwill following allegations of abuse. (Pl's Opp'n to Mot. Summ. J. 3.)

         In an employment discrimination case, front and back pay are subject to reduction by the amount of "actual earnings on another job during the pertinent period or by whatever amount the victim could with reasonable diligence have earned during that time." Me. Human Rights Comm 'n v. Dep't of Corrs., 474 A.2d 860, 869 (Me. 1984) (internal quotations and alterations omitted). In requesting that Lewis be precluded from pursuing front and back pay as damages, Goodwill essentially characterizes this issue as an all-or-nothing analysis. (See Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. 2.) However, a mitigation of damages analysis occurs on a continuum and requires consideration of not only whether or not a plaintiff attempted to mitigate their damages, but the extent to which they made such an effort. Furthermore, if the plaintiff did fail to some extent to mitigate their damages, it is the defendant's burden "to prove facts to enable the court to determine the appropriate deduction." Me. Human Rights Comm 'n, 474 A.2d at 869. As the Law Court has repeatedly recognized,

defendant's burden of proving lack of diligence is not satisfied merely by a showing that there were further actions that plaintiff could have taken in pursuit of employment. Rather, defendant must show that the course of conduct plaintiff actually followed was so deficient as to constitute an unreasonable failure to seek employment. The range of reasonable conduct is ...

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