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Fountain v. Big River Lumber Company LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

January 12, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude Inaccurate Reference to Plaintiff's Annual Compensation [40] and Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Outside of Discovery Disclosures [42]. After reviewing the submissions of the parties and the applicable law, the Court finds that both of Defendants' Motions [40] [42] are not well taken and should be denied.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of an employment dispute. Plaintiff has sued his former employer, Big River Lumber Company, LLC (“Big River”) and two of its managers (collectively, “Defendants”) alleging disparate treatment under Title VII for his termination in July 2015, a hostile work environment, and overtime violations under FLSA. In its previous Order [58], the Court permitted Defendants to file two motions in limine out of time to exclude evidence that Defendants were unaware of until the Pre-trial Conference on November 13, 2017.

         II. Law & Analysis

         A. Defendants' First Motion in Limine [40]

         At the Pre-trial Conference held on November 13, 2017, Plaintiff represented to the Court that his previous earnings totaled $61, 000.00 while discussing damages. After the conference, Defendants filed their first motion in limine, arguing that Plaintiff's W-2s show that he never earned more than $44, 000 in a year. Further, they argue that Plaintiff has not disclosed any records that contradict his W-2s. Thus, according to Defendants, any reference to $61, 000 as compensation should be excluded as it would lead to unfair prejudice, confuse the issues, and mislead the jury.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to put on evidence regarding his damages, including back pay he is owed. Plaintiff further argues that his damages extend beyond the face amount on a W-2 and that he “is entitled to put on proof of his entitlement to damages, irrespective of the amount.” Pl.'s Mem. Opp. Defs.' Mot. Lim. Exclude Inaccurate Reference to Pl.'s Annual Compensation 1, ECF No. 63. Plaintiff also argues that settlement discussions are not admissible under Rule 408 and that “Defendant's [sic] argument undermines the very concept of settlement negotiations.” Id. at 2.[1]

         Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence states: “Evidence is relevant if (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. Unfair prejudice is defined as “an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional one.” In this context, prejudice may result “from facts that arouse the jury's hostility or sympathy without regard to the probative value of the evidence.” 1 McCormick on Evidence § 185 (7th ed. 2013) (emphasis added). “Second, whether or not ‘emotional' reactions are at work, relevant evidence can confuse, or worse, mislead a trier of fact who is not properly equipped to judge the probative worth of the evidence.Id. (emphasis added) (footnotes omitted).

         Plaintiff's testimony that he made $61, 000.00 a year while working at Big River is relevant, as the issue of Plaintiff's prior compensation has probative value to the amount of damages to which he may be entitled. Further, the likelihood of unfair prejudice is low, as there is nothing to suggest that the jury would base its findings on an improper basis or that it would disregard the probative value of Plaintiff's testimony. Defendants argue that the court should exclude such statements because they are “blatantly false, ” but determinations as to whether a testimony should be believed are for the jury. Defendants will have the opportunity to introduce the W-2 and contradict Plaintiff's testimony if he chooses to testify that he made $61, 000.00 while working at Big River. The jury will then be able to decide what probative value to assign such testimony. The fact that a statement is contradicted by other evidence does not make it inadmissible under Rule 403. Furthermore, as a jury is familiar with a W-2, the jury is properly equipped to understand the probative value of testimony that is flatly contradicted by a W-2; therefore, there is no significant risk that the jury will be misled or confused. Therefore, Defendants' Motion [40] is denied.

         B. Defendants' Second Motion in Limine [42]

         In this Motion, Defendants ask that the Court exclude reference to evidence not previously disclosed in discovery. At the Pretrial Conference, Plaintiff stated that in support of his hostile work environment claim, he intended to testify that certain bathrooms were for white employees only and that whenever black employees attempted to warm themselves around the fire barrel, the fire would be put out. It is uncontested that this was the first time Defendants received notice that Plaintiff intended to testify to such.

         Rule 37(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procure states: “If a party fails to provide information . . . as required by Rule 26(a) or (e), the party is not allowed to use that information . . . to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless.” Thus, in order for evidence to be excluded for failure to disclose, there must have first been a duty to disclose under Rule 26(a) or (e). Rule 26(e) requires that a party who has responded to an interrogatory or request for production must supplement or correct its disclosure or response “in a timely manner if the party learns that in some material respect the disclosure or response is incomplete or incorrect, and if the additional or corrective information has not otherwise been made known to the other parties during the discovery process or in writing.” When deciding whether to exclude evidence not properly designated, a court must consider four factors: (1) the explanation for the failure to disclose the evidence; (2) the importance of the evidence; (3) the potential prejudice in allowing the testimony; and (4) the availability of a continuance to cure such prejudice. Hamburger v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 361 F.3d 875, 883 (5th Cir. 2004); Gierserman v. MacDonald, 893 F.2d 787, 791 (5th Cir. 1990).

         For the first factor, Plaintiff argues that the testimony was not disclosed because it did not fall within any of the Defendants' discovery requests and Defendants never deposed Plaintiff; therefore, Plaintiff had no reason to ...

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