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GAGE v. METRO. WATER RECLAMATION DIST. OF GREATER CHICAGO

April 14, 2005.

CHERRIE L. GAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN WATER RECLAMATION DISTRICT OF GREATER CHICAGO, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORTON DENLOW, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case comes before this Court on motions in limine filed by the parties in preparation for trial. The plaintiff, Cherrie L. Gage ("Plaintiff" or "Gage"), brought three motions in limine; the defendant, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago ("Defendant" or "the District"), brought eight motions in limine. These motions were referred by District Court Judge Marvin E. Aspen for resolution pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court held oral arguments on March 30, 2005, and announced its rulings from the bench. This memorandum opinion provides additional explanation for the Court's rulings.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

  Plaintiff filed a four-count amended complaint against Defendant alleging three counts of racial discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq: hostile work environment, discriminatory demotion (i.e., the termination of the Plaintiff's probationary status) and retaliation, and one count of municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging a widespread policy and practice of racial discrimination (i.e., depriving African-American employees of their constitutional rights). Upon a motion for summary judgment, the district court dismissed all the claims except the claim for discriminatory termination of the probationary period. Gage v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation Dist. of Greater Chi., No. 02 C 9369, 2004 WL 1899902, at *19 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 18, 2004).

  All of the following facts are taken from the "Background Section" of Judge Aspen's August 18, 2004, opinion on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Id. at *1-*6. Gage was hired by the District in 1989 as an administrative assistant. In 1991, she was appointed to a Management Analyst I ("MAI") position in the Maintenance and Operations ("M & O") Department. She was transferred from the M & O Department to a MAI position in the Research and Development ("R & D") Department in 1995 and received position reviews for her work as a MAI. In 1999, Gage was appointed to a position as a Management Analyst II ("MAII") in R & D, and completed her probationary period*fn1 on January 1, 2000. She received a rating of "Exceeds Standards" for her work in 1998 and 1999. After passing the required examination, Gage was appointed to a Management Analyst III ("MAIII") position in the M & O Department on November 17, 2000. The probationary period for this position is one year.

  As a MAIII, Gage's direct supervisor was Michael Bland. Bland, a MAIV, had worked at the District since 1977. Bland, who is white, was responsible for evaluating Gage's work and completing reports on her service throughout her probationary period. Bland supervised three units in M & O. Gage took over the MAIII position from a white female, who had been performing the job in a temporary capacity. On Plaintiff's first day, Bland told her, "You are a beautiful woman. No. You are a beautiful black woman, but that's not what you are being evaluated on." The following day, Gage notified Bland that she was disturbed by his comment; Bland testified that it was "a frustration statement." Following this conversation, Bland began maintaining a log documenting Gage's whereabouts, work hours, and other activities. Bland did not keep logs on the other managers he supervised, Elizabeth Collins (MAIII) or Linda Dunlap (Senior Personnel Analyst), both white females, or Karen Sizemore (MAII), Gage's white female predecessor.

  On Gage's first evaluation, which covered the first three months of the probationary period, she received an overall rating of "Requires Improvement." Gage disagreed with the evaluation and composed a written response, which she sent to the District's Director of Personnel, the Assistant Chief Engineer, and Bland. She also wrote a letter to the District's Equal Employment Officer, raising her concerns about the evaluation. Gage received a similar evaluation on her six-month review. She refused to sign the evaluation, and met with Tom O'Connor, the Chief of the M & O Department, to inform him that she felt Bland had unfairly rated her. She informed O'Connor about Bland's "beautiful black woman" comment and sent another written response to O'Connor and Bland's other supervisors. Gage's nine-month evaluation was substantially the same, and on August 23, 2001, she again composed a written response, this time stating that Bland's behavior since her first day had been discriminatory and harassing. On August 31, 2001, Bland issued a written warning because Gage remained in the office building past 4:45 p.m. to compose her response of August 23rd.

  Pursuant to O'Connor's request, Equal Employment Officer Frances Wilkins ("Wilkins") conducted an inquiry into Bland's three-month and six-month performance evaluations of Gage. As part of her investigation, Wilkins interviewed Gage, Bland, and Cargill, one of Bland's supervisors. On September 19, 2001, Wilkins issued her report outlining her inquiry into Gage's complaints. Wilkins's report concluded that Gage's work volume rating for the first three months did not take into consideration the fact that Plaintiff had actually worked only the last six weeks of the first three-month rating period. Wilkins found that Bland's failure to take account of that disparity was improper. Wilkins determined, however, that the other ratings Plaintiff received did not warrant change.

  On October 31, 2001, Bland completed his one-year report on Plaintiff's performance during her probationary period, rating her overall performance as "Not Satisfactory." Bland recommended that Plaintiff's probationary period be terminated. Bland met with his supervisor, Gary Ziols ("Ziols"), Assistant Chief Engineer, about his recommendation. Ziols approved the termination. Ziols then met with his supervisor, O'Connor, who signed off on the recommendation. Subsequently, O'Connor met with the District's General Superintendent, John Farnan, who then terminated Plaintiff's probationary period.

  Following the termination of her probation as a MAIII in the M & O Department, Plaintiff began work as a MAII in the R & D Department. She received the rating of "Highly effective" in December 2002. Plaintiff continues to work for the District.

  II. LEGAL STANDARDS

  A motion in limine refers "to any motion, whether made before or during trial, to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40n. 2 (1984). District courts have the authority to rule on motions in limine pursuant to their inherent authority to manage trials, even though such rulings are not explicitly authorized by the Federal Rules of Evidence. Id. at 41n. 4; see Mountain Funding, Inc. v. Frontier Ins. Co., No. 01 C 2785, 2004 WL 868366, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 22, 2004). District judges have broad discretion in ruling on motions in limine. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). In order to exclude evidence on motions in limine, however, the evidence must be inadmissible on all potential grounds. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41n. 4. Otherwise, rulings should be deferred to the time of trial, so that questions of relevancy, foundation and potential prejudice may be resolved. See Mountain Funding, 2004 WL 868366, at *2. A ruling on a motion in limine is not necessarily a final one. Trial judges are free to alter previous in limine rulings, within the bounds of sound judicial discretion. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41. III. DISCUSSION

  Plaintiff has filed three motions in limine to exclude: (1) insinuations that Gage was originally hired due to a romantic relationship and insinuations about Gage's children and her martial status, (2) the fact of an unadjudicated 1997 EEOC charge of promotion discrimination filed by Gage, and (3) reference to a diagnosis of Delores Stewart as "Manic-Depressive" or "Bipolar."*fn2 The Defendant has filed eight motions in limine to exclude: (1) stray remarks allegedly made by Michael Bland, (2) evidence regarding events before and after Gage's probationary period, (3) evidence and questions regarding Wilkins' investigation, (4) evidence regarding non-similarly situated employees, (5) the testimony of the District's Commissioners, (6) materials submitted to the EEOC, (7) statistical evidence and (8) recommendations and testimony of Callie Baird.*fn3

  A. PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS IN LIMINE

  The Plaintiff brought three motions in limine to exclude testimony relating to aspects of her personal life, P. Mot. 1, a prior, unadjudicated EEOC charge of discrimination, P. Mot. 2, and a witness's diagnosis of bipolar disorder and prescription drug use, P. Mot. 3. This Court now addresses the Plaintiff's three motions in turn.

  1. Aspects of Plaintiff's Personal Life — P. Mot. 1

  In P. Mot. 1, the Plaintiff seeks to exclude as not relevant an insinuation that she was originally hired by the District due to an alleged romantic relationship with one of the District's Commissioners and to exclude insinuations relating to the Plaintiff's children and marital status. The term "relevant evidence" is defined in Rule 401 as "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fed.R. Evid. 401. Rule 402 states that "[e]vidence which is not relevant is not admissible." Fed.R. Evid. 402. The District does not dispute the irrelevance of the alleged romantic relationship and such testimony will be excluded by agreement of the parties.

  As for the second part of the motion relating to evidence regarding the Plaintiff's children and marital status, the Defendant concedes there is no relevant evidence that could be proffered on the issue of liability, but argues that such evidence is relevant to the issue of damages. Gage is claiming $300,000 in damages for pain, suffering, and emotional injury without the aid of any medical testimony. The Defendant disputes this figure and as a result must be afforded the opportunity to inquire about alternative stressors in the Plaintiff's life in order to show that the $300,000 amount claimed by Plaintiff may have been caused by these other stressors. As justification for its position, the District cites York v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., which allowed the defendant to introduce into evidence the plaintiff's eight year long divorce proceeding as an alternative cause for the plaintiff's emotional distress. 95 F.3d 948, 957 (10th Cir. 1996). Within the Seventh Circuit, plaintiffs' concerns for privacy have been subrogated to the rights of defendants to properly inquire into the cause of alleged pain and suffering. Kessell v. Cook Co., No. 00 C 3980, 2002 WL 398506, *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 14, 2002). Like the defendants in these cases, the District has the right to present alternative causes for the Plaintiff's emotional distress, including Plaintiff's stress as the sole-caretaker of two pre-teen children. Thus, for the purposes of damages only, information pertaining to the Plaintiff's children and the Plaintiff's status as a sole-caretaker may be admitted into evidence for the period of time for which Plaintiff seeks damages, and the Plaintiff's motion with respect to these two inquiries is denied.

  Federal Rule of Evidence 403 sets the outer bounds of the Defendant's allowable inquiry. Rule 403 states that evidence offered by the Defendant, while relevant, can still be excluded if "its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." Fed.R. Evid. 403. Thus, an inquiry into whether the Plaintiff bore her children out of wedlock is not probative of the question of alternative causes of stress at the time of the adverse employment action. By agreement of the parties, this area of inquiry is excluded and the motion in limine is granted. Accordingly, P. Mot. 1 is denied with respect to the inquiry into the Plaintiff's children and status as a single mother as it pertains to the issue of damages and granted with respect to the insinuations relating to the romantic relationship with a District Commissioner, and references to the Plaintiff having children out of wedlock.

  2. Unadjudicated EEOC Claim — P. Mot. 2

  In P. Mot. 2, Plaintiff seeks to exclude evidence of an unadjudicated 1997 EEOC charge of promotion discrimination. The Defendant agrees that the prior EEOC has no relevance to this case. Accordingly, this Court grants the Plaintiff's motion to exclude the 1997 EEOC charge.

  3. Witness's Mental Disorder and Prescription Drug Use — P. Mot. 3

  In P. Mot. 3, Gage seeks to exclude reference to a diagnosis of Dolores Stewart, a key witness for the Plaintiff, as "bipolar" or "manic depressive" on the grounds that it is overly inflammatory, irrelevant, and would be proffered without sufficient medical expert foundation. The Defendant argues that such information is admissible as it goes to the credibility of the witness and directly affects the ability of the witness to testify accurately. Furthermore, the Defendant argues that expert medical testimony is not required to establish sufficient foundation as the witness is "more than competent to answer questions about her own condition without medical testimony or expert opinion." D. Resp. 3 at 6. Beginning in 1993, Ms. Stewart was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental disease commonly referred to as "manic depression." Since the diagnosis, she has been prescribed Prozac, Lithium and Paxil and potentially could be on the medication when called to testify at trial. As the Defendant notes, the American Psychiatric Association has found that persons with bipolar disorder may suffer from increased irritability, an impaired ability to think clearly, and memory difficulties. In addition, the Defendant cites a medical reference guide indicating that Prozac and Lithium have been known to impair judgement in thinking and to cause blackouts and confusion. Physician's Desk Reference, 963, 965 (54th ed. 2000).

  While courts have occasionally differed as to the circumstances under which evidence of a witness's drug use may be admitted, the vast majority recognize that mental capacity and drug use, however lawful, may affect a witness's credibility. For example, in Chnapkova v. Roh, the Second Circuit described the district court's refusal to allow a defendant to cross examine an adverse witness about her schizophrenic mental condition as an abuse of discretion. 59 F.3d 341, 347 (2d Cir. 2002). In making its determination, the Chnapkova court noted that schizophrenia may "grossly distort" a witness' reaction to events. Id. As a result, the court concluded that a defendant should be able to use evidence of an existing mental defect to impeach a witness's credibility. Bipolar disorder, like schizophrenia, can distort a witness' reaction to events. The psychological manual cited by the District lists as a symptom of bipolar disorder increased irritability and an impaired judgment. As a result, the District, like the defendant in Chnapkova, should be provided with the opportunity to cross-examine a Plaintiff's witness regarding her mental capacity.

  However, such an opportunity can only be afforded if it is relevant. See Fed.R. Evid. 402. While the parties' motions discuss traumatic events in Ms. Stewart's life going back twelve years, this Court believes only two such points in time are relevant to this case — the time of the alleged incidents and the time Ms. Stewart is on the witness stand giving testimony. Ms. Stewart has been able to function in the workplace throughout her experience with these drugs, and as the Court learned in oral argument, Ms. Stewart did not require any medications at the time of incidents. In ...


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