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Harkness v. Bauhaus U.S.A., Inc.

United States District Court, Northern District of Mississippi, Oxford Division

February 13, 2015

JUNE HARKNESS, PLAINTIFF
v.
BAUHAUS U.S.A., INC. DEFENDANT

ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT’S MOTION IN LIMINE

DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This is an age discrimination action brought by Plaintiff June Harkness against her former employer, Defendant Bauhaus U.S.A., Inc. Doc. #1. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant wrongfully terminated her employment in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. Id. Before the Court is Defendant’s motion in limine. Doc. #53. Defendant seeks exclusion of: (1) “[t]estimony and/or documents regarding [Nancy] Dobbins;” (2) “[t]estimony of and/or documents regarding [Sheila] Barton and [Ernestine] Tate;” (3) evidence of “[o]ther employee terminations and/or layoffs;” and (4) a Mississippi Department of Employment Security (“MDES”) Questionnaire. Doc. #54.

I

In Limine Standard

“The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the trial court to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and relevance of certain forecasted evidence.” Wechsler v. Hunt Health Sys., Ltd, 381 F.Supp.2d 135, 140 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing Luce v. U.S., 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984)) (emphasis omitted). “Evidence should not be excluded in limine unless it is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds.” Fair v. Allen, No. 09-2018, 2011 WL 830291, at *1 (W.D. La. Mar. 3, 2011); see also Hull v. Ford, No. C-05-43, 2008 WL 178890, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 17, 2008).

II

Dobbins Evidence

As explained in more detail in this Court’s Opinion and Order Denying Summary Judgment, Doc. #63, Dobbins, who was born on or about 1953, worked in Defendant’s Customer Service Department (“Department”) from approximately 2000 until March 2010, when she was terminated by Kathy Jaggers, Plaintiff’s supervisor. Id. at 3–5. Dobbins was terminated approximately seven weeks after Sabrina Hawkins Hupper, who was born on or about 1986, started working in the Department. Id. at 3–5. Jaggers testified that she terminated Dobbins for “excessive tardiness and costly errors.” Id. at 4. Dobbins, for her part, testified that her termination was not because of her age. Id.

Defendant argues that evidence related to Dobbins’s termination is inadmissible because it is irrelevant, unduly prejudicial, improper character evidence, and is hearsay.

A. Relevance

Federal Rule of Evidence 402 sets forth a simple mandate that “[i]rrelevant evidence is not admissible.” Rule 401, in turn, defines evidence as relevant if: “it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and … the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Plaintiff argues that the evidence relating to Dobbins is relevant because: (1) Dobbins “is another older person who was fired by … Jaggers, and replaced by a far younger employee;” (2) the circumstances of Dobbins’ termination provide “circumstantial evidence that the termination had been decided long before the final write-ups;” and (3) it is “background” evidence. Doc. #58 at 3–4.

1. Anecdotal Evidence of Discrimination and Background Evidence[1]

It appears that Plaintiff seeks to use Dobbins’ termination as evidence that Jaggers possessed a discriminatory animus when she wrote Plaintiff up and then participated in the decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment. Defendant, citing to Goff v. Continental Oil Co., 678 F.2d 593, 596 (5th Cir. 1982), argues that the evidence relating to Dobbins “would not be relevant … in light of the fact Ms. Harkness has not alleged class-wide or pattern and practice discrimination.” Doc. #60 at 3–4.

Goff, which was overruled on other grounds by Carter v. South Central Bell, 912 F.2d 832, 840 (5th Cir. 1990), involved an appeal from a district court’s exclusion of proposed testimony from co-workers regarding alleged discrimination by an employer. Goff, 678 F.2d at 596. The Goff court noted that:

Goff's claim was one of individualized, as opposed to classwide, discrimination. To prevail he had to show that Conoco purposefully discriminated against him. The witnesses Goff wanted to call could not testify as to Conoco's motive, intent, or purposefulness in failing to promote Goff. None of them had worked with Goff at Conoco, and none had any knowledge of Goff's experience or relationship with the company. All the witnesses could have testified to was their own individualized dealings with Conoco. Because none had worked in Goff's department, their testimony would not have concerned the same supervisors of whom Goff ...


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