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MOORE v. METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DIST. OF GR. CHI.

November 19, 2004.

NESHAWN MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NAN NOLAN, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Neshawn Moore sued her employer Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago ("the District") for sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). This matter is now before the court for ruling on the District's motions in limine.

I. Legal Standard

  As part of a federal court's inherent authority to manage trials, the court may exclude evidence through motions in limine. Brown v. Joswiak, No. 02 C 4622, 2004 WL 407001, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 24, 2004). However, evidence should be excluded in limine "only when that evidence is clearly inadmissable on all potential grounds." Id. Certain evidentiary rulings must wait until trial, in order for the court to make an accurate evaluation regarding admissibility within the context of the trial. Id. Additionally, denial of a motion in limine does not mean that the evidence at issue will be admitted at trial — appropriate objections can be raised at trial. Id. II. The District's Motions in Limine

  The District has filed six motions in limine, which shall be addressed in turn.

  A. Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Regarding Any Acts of Sexual Harassment Occurring Prior to October 14, 2004

  The District asks the court to bar Moore from introducing any evidence regarding acts of sexual harassment that occurred prior to October 14, 2000. In Illinois, in order to litigate an employment discrimination claim, a person must file an EEOC charge within 300 days of the alleged discrimination. Hall v. Bodine Elec. Co., 276 F.3d 345, 352 (7th Cir. 2002). Here, Moore filed her EEOC charge on August 10, 2001. The question presented is whether acts that fall outside of the statute of limitations — i.e., acts occurring before October 14, 2000 — are actionable as part of Moore's hostile work environment claim.

  The answer depends on whether the pre-limitations acts and the acts within the limitations period are sufficiently related to constitute a single hostile work environment claim. In National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 117 (2002), the Supreme Court held that "[p]rovided that an act contributing to the claim occurs within the filing period, the entire time period of the hostile environment may be considered by a court for purposes of determining liability." In order to be timely, Moore needed only to file her EEOC charge within 300 days of any act that is part of the hostile work environment. Id. at 118. To be part of a single claim, however, the pre-limitations acts must bear some relation to the acts within the limitations period. Id. "A court's task is to determine whether the acts about which an employee complains are part of the same actionable hostile work environment practice, and if so, whether any act falls within the statutory time period." Id. at 120. The District contends that Moore fails to allege any acts that occurred within the limitations period, and that even if she did, any acts within the limitations period are not related to the pre-limitations conduct. From what the court was able to discern from the briefs, Moore bases her hostile work environment claim on at least the following conduct.*fn1 During the pre-limitations period, Moore claims that (1) between January and August 2000, co-worker Ricky Allen exposed himself to her on four occasions, (2) in early 2000, Ron Hultgren asked her who she dates, if she dates outside her race, and who she has sex with and also made a derogatory comment about women in general, and (3) in 1998, Don Hicks attempted to hold her hand. Moore further claims that during the limitations period (4) she witnessed Allen and Sophia Evans having sex in the locker room, (5) Paul Wysocki backed her into the wall and expressed his fondness for her, and (6) Don Hicks told her that he overheard a conversation in which Wysocki, Culhane and Hultgren were discussing who would be the first to have sex with her.*fn2

  As a threshold matter, the court rejects the District's argument that Moore alleges no acts of sexual harassment during the limitations period. In its motion, the District describes two allegations regarding incidents that occurred within the limitations period: the incident with Wysocki backing Moore into a wall and the betting conversation between Wysocki, Culhane and Hultgren.*fn3 Notwithstanding those allegations, the District argues that there are no acts of harassment within the limitations period because those incidents were not described in Moore's journal. There is a dispute between the parties regarding whether Moore's journal was exhaustive (as the District contends) or merely comprehensive but not exhaustive (as Moore contends). Resolution of this factual dispute is for the jury to decide, not the court. Further, if Moore failed to allege any act within the limitations period, then the District should have sought summary judgment on the grounds that the entire hostile work environment claim was time-barred, not just that the pre-limitations conduct was barred. In other words, if Moore failed to allege any act within the limitations period, her claim should not have survived summary judgment. See Morgan, 536 U.S. at 117 (an act contributing to the claim must occur within the statutory period).

  As for the District's contention that the "conduct within the limitations period is not actionable sexual harassment," (Mot. ¶ 8), that argument misstates the law. Neither the Wysocki incident nor the betting conversation need to be independently actionable; the incidents need only contribute to the hostile work environment. Morgan, 536 U.S. at 117. "Courts should not carve up the incidents of harassment and then separately analyze each incident, by itself, to see if each rises to the level of being severe or pervasive." Mason v. S. Ill. Univ., 233 F.3d 1036, 1045 (7th Cir. 2000). That said, the court agrees that the incident in the locker room where Moore allegedly witnessed Ricky Allen and Sophia Evans having sex is not an act contributing to a hostile work environment. Although such conduct is completely inappropriate in the workplace, the conduct was neither directed at Moore nor directed at her gender. See Hilt-Dyson v. City of Chicago, 282 F.3d 456, 462 (7th Cir. 2002) (conduct must be directed at plaintiff because of her sex). Evidence regarding the incident Moore witnessed in the locker room is not relevant to her hostile work environment claim, and even if it were, the court finds that the prejudicial value substantially outweighs any probative value; the evidence is barred under Rules 402 and 403.

  The issue, then, is whether the pre-limitations conduct and conduct within the limitations period can be viewed as part of the same hostile work environment. The District argues that the pre-limitations conduct is not related to the conduct within the limitations period. The court, however, cannot agree. The District raised the same argument in its motion for summary judgment, arguing that all conduct prior to October 12, 2000 is time-barred. Although the district court's opinion makes no reference to the statute-of-limitations argument, the district court denied summary judgment. (District court order of 5.12.04, docket 67.) If the pre-limitations conduct were not part of Moore's hostile work environment claim, it is doubtful that her claim could have survived summary judgment based solely on the incident with Wysocki and the second-hand conversation. The reasonable inference is that by denying summary judgment, the district court has already rejected the District's position, albeit implicitly.

  Even disregarding that inference, the District has failed to persuade the court that exclusion of the pre-limitations evidence is warranted. For example, the District argues that there is a substantial gap between Hultgren's derogatory comments in early 2000 and the betting conversation. It is not clear exactly when the betting conversation occurred, but the gap was less that two years. Regardless, as the Supreme Court explained in Morgan, it does not matter if there was a gap between the conduct "so long as each act is part of the whole." Morgan, 536 U.S. at 118. Given that Hultgren was involved in both incidents,*fn4 the gap in time does not affect the relatedness. Further, the District's contention that there is a gap between incidents involving Hultgren is quite different from claiming that the harassment Moore experienced ceased for a substantial period of time. Cf. Lucas v. Chicago Transit Auth., 367 F.3d 714, 727 (7th Cir. 2004) (acts were not part of the same hostile work environment where there was a "three-year gap between the discriminatory acts alleged, with the last act occurring entirely by happenstance").

  The District also argues that the allegations involve different actors. Admittedly, there is some variation in the actors. Allen's conduct occurred during the pre-limitations period whereas the incidents with Wysocki and Culhane occurred during the limitations period. However, Moore claims she reported Allen's harassment to Wysocki, who took no action. If Wysocki was aware of her earlier complaints, and later was an active contributor to the problem, a reasonable jury could conclude that the conduct during the limitations period "merely extended the same hostile work environment" that began in the pre-limitations period. Mennis v. Prime Hospitality Corp., No. 03-4191, 2004 WL 1987229, at *8 (D. Minn. Sept. 7, 2004) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). There is sufficient overlap for the conduct to be related to the same hostile work environment claim.*fn5

  The relatedness between Hicks' attempts to hold Moore's hand and the remainder of her hostile work environment claim seems more attenuated. See Lucas, 367 F.3d at 727 (acts "`so discrete in time or circumstances that they do not reinforce each other cannot reasonably be linked together into a single chain, a single course of conduct, to defeat the statute of limitations'"). However, based on the parties' submissions, it is not clear what evidence Moore intends to present regarding Hicks. As a result, the court cannot conclude that "the evidence is clearly ...


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