Gilster v. Primebank, et al., No. 12-3064 (8th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging claims of unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000 et seq., and the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code 216.6. On appeal, defendants challenged the jury verdict in favor of plaintiff, arguing that they were entitled to a new trial. Defendants argued that the district court erred in overruling their objection to improper rebuttal closing argument by plaintiff's counsel, and then abused its discretion in denying defendants' post-trial motion because this argument, while improper, was not sufficiently prejudicial to warrant a new trial. Counsel made emotionally-charged comments at the end of rebuttal closing argument, referencing her own sexual harassment during law school and assurances to the jury that her client testified truthfully about past sexual abuse. The court concluded that the timing and emotional nature of counsel's improper and repeated personal vouching for her client, using direct references to facts not in evidence, combined with the critical importance of plaintiff's credibility to issues of both liability and damages, made the improper comments unfairly prejudicial and required that the court remand for a new trial. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings.