Cartwright v. Scheels All Sports, Inc.

Cartwright v. Scheels All Sports, Inc., 2013 MT 158 (June 18, 2013) (5-0) (McKinnon, J.)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in (1) denying summary judgment to Cartwright and allowing Scheels to argue good cause for terminating Cartwright’s employment; (2) failing to sanction Scheels for discovery abuse and destruction of evidence; (3) denying Cartwright’s motion to amend the pleadings; (4) allowing Scheels’ expert witness to testify about ultimate issues of fact and law; and (5) allowing witnesses to testify about rumors heard at Scheels about Cartwright.

Short Answer: (1) No; (2) no; (3) no; (4) no; and (5) no.

Affirmed

 

Facts: Brandon Cartwright was employed in Scheels’ Great Falls store from 1996 to 2007. He by all accounts a good worker. Beginning in 2001, and continuing through the date of trial, Cartwright dated and lived with one of the other assistant managers at the Great Falls store. For several months in 2007, he also had a “sexual fling” with J., another assistant manager at the Great Falls store. J. discussed the affair with several co-workers, some of whom became uncomfortable working with Cartwright because his live-in girlfriend did not know what was going on.

Darin Werner, the store manager, asked Cartwright about the situation in March and August 2007, but Cartwright denied having a sexual relationship with J. In August 2007, Cartwright and another assistant manager, Carri Blockyou, had a heated exchange concerning the situation. Shortly thereafter, Blockyou resigned.

On Sept. 1, 2007, Werner called Cartwright and J. into his office. Both denied having a relationship. Cartwright became angry. Werner fired both Cartwright and J.

Cartwright applied for and was found eligible for unemployment benefits. Scheels appealed to the Board of Labor Appeals, which affirmed. The eligibility decision included a finding that Cartwright had not been terminated due to his own misconduct.

Cartwright sued Scheels for wrongful discharge, claiming he was fired for having a relationship with J and refusing to discuss it with Werner. Scheels contends Cartwright was fired because of the effects his relationships were having on the managerial team, and because he swore at Werner when Werner asked him about his relationship with J.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court denied Cartwright’s motion for summary judgment on liability, which he based on the unemployment eligibility finding. The court denied Scheels’ cross-motion for summary judgment on whether Scheels had good cause to fire Cartwright, and granted Scheels summary judgment on Cartwright’s claim that his discharge was based on his refusal to violate public policy. The court later denied Cartwright’s claim to amend and add a claim for punitives.

After a five-day jury trial, the jury found that Scheels did not wrongfully terminate Cartwright. Cartwright appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) A finding or conclusion made under unemployment insurance law may not be conclusive or binding or used as evidence in another proceeding. § 39-51-110, MCA. Moreover, the issue decided in the unemployment benefits hearing was not identical to the issue here, i.e., whether Scheels had good cause to terminate Cartwright.

Within a few months of his discharge, Cartwright learned that Scheels had deleted all of his emails and data on his work computer. He contends this left him unable to impeach witnesses and deprived him of evidence that he was well-regarded by his co-workers. Cartwright’s emails and data were destroyed in compliance with Scheels’ standard practice. Cartwright’s unemployment benefits hearing was not enough to put Scheels on notice that Cartwright’s files would become relevant to potential litigation. Moreover, Scheels did not actively conceal evidence from Cartwright, but instead deleted them in existence with an existing policy. The district court did not err in denying Cartwright’s motion for sanctions against Scheels for discovery abuse and destruction of evidence.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Cartwright’s motion to amend and add a punitive damages claim. The claim would have been based on Cartwright’s claim that he was fired for refusing to violate public policy — but the lower court granted summary judgment to Scheels on that claim.

The admissibility of expert testimony is a matter within the district court’s discretion. Cartwright moved in limine to exclude Scheels’ human resource management expert, Linda Brown, on the basis that her testimony encompassed ultimate facts and law. Brown did not testify as to ultimate issues of law. Cartwright has not established that Brown’s testimony constituted impermissible credibility determinations of witnesses. The district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the testimony.

(5) Cartwright argues that his co-workers should not have been allowed to testify about rumors they had heard about him. He moved in limine to exclude such testimony because it was hearsay, but did not object during trial. The district court denied the motion in limine, stating it could not be granted without knowing the specific testimony to which Cartwright objected, and that the proper way to handle the matter would be through objections at trial. The testimony regarding rumors was offered to show the effect the rumors had on the listeners and on the workplace, not to show they were true. It does not fit the definition of hearsay. CArtwright fails to show that the lower court abused its discretion.