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Benders v. Bellows & Bellows

April 29, 2009

EVELYN BENDERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BELLOWS & BELLOWS, P.C., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-yeghiayan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the court on Plaintiff Evelyn Benders' (Benders) motions in limine. This matter is also before the court on Defendant Bellows & Bellows, P.C.'s (B&B) motions in limine. For the reasons stated below we grant in part and deny in part Benders' motions in limine. We also grant in part and deny in part B&B's motions in limine.

BACKGROUND

Benders alleges that she is an African-American female who began working for B&B in 1996 as a legal administrator. Benders alleges that after she was demoted and replaced by a younger Caucasian female, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on February 17, 2004, and also made other threats to report B&B to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). According to Benders, after she filed her EEOC charge alleging race and age discrimination, Joel Bellows, the owner and president of B&B became hostile towards Benders and made her working conditions difficult. Benders alleges that on April 20, 2004, her employment was terminated by the firm, allegedly in retaliation for bringing the EEOC charge and for making the threat to report B&B to the IRS.

Benders brought the instant action (Benders I) on November 12, 2004, and includes in her corrected second amended complaint a claim for retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., and a retaliatory discharge claim. On November 7, 2005, Benders sought leave to file a third amended complaint to add a claim alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. This court denied Benders leave to file a third amended complaint as untimely, and on January 19, 2006, Benders filed a separate pro se action claiming sex discrimination in violation of Title VII (Benders II)(Case No. 06 C 324). On January 24, 2006, we granted B&B's motion for summary judgment on all claims in Benders I and on May 12, 2006, the court dismissed the action in Benders II for failure to state a claim.

On February 12, 2008, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion affirming this court's grant of B&B's motion for summary judgment on the ERISA claim, but reversing the grant of B&B's motion for summary judgment on the Title VII and state retaliatory discharge claims in Benders I. The Seventh Circuit also affirmed the dismissal of Benders II. The Seventh Circuit remanded the action for further proceedings on the two remaining claims in Benders I. The court has scheduled a date for trial on the remaining claims in Benders I, and both parties have filed the instant motions in limine.

DISCUSSION

I. Benders' Motions in Limine

Benders has filed a total of six motions in limine. However, two of the motions, (1) Benders' motion to "Exclude Irrelevant and Prejudicial Evidence," (Doc. No. 138), and (2) Benders' motion to "Bar Evidence or Testimony Concerning Prior Litigation," (Doc. No. 147), seek exactly the same relief and will be treated as a single motion. Furthermore, with respect to two of Benders' motions, B&B has filed no opposition and has not otherwise raised an objection to either motion. The first is Benders' motion to "Bar Evidence or Testimony Concerning the EEOC's No Cause Finding," (Doc. No. 146), seeking to bar evidence of the EEOC's no cause finding with respect to both of Benders' discrimination charges filed with the EEOC. The second is Benders' motion to "Bar Evidence or Testimony Concerning the Court's Ruling on Plaintiff's ERISA Claim and the Subsequent Seventh Circuit Ruling," (Doc. No. 148), seeking to bar evidence relating to this court's grant of summary judgment on Benders' ERISA claim and the Seventh Circuit's affirmance of that ruling. The court agrees that with respect to both motions the evidence should be excluded as irrelevant and the court grants both motions without objection from B&B. Therefore, there are a total of three contested motions in limine filed by Benders.

A. Motion to Exclude Evidence of Prior Wage Claim

Benders seeks to bar all evidence relating to a prior wage discrimination case that Benders brought against a former employer fourteen years ago. Benders argues that the prior claim has no relevance to the instant action and that the facts of the prior case were vastly dissimilar. Benders argues that B&B's only purpose for presenting such evidence is the inadmissible purpose of showing Benders' litigiousness or propensity to file discrimination lawsuits. B&B argues that evidence of Benders' prior claim is relevant to show that Benders had the knowledge and wherewithal to "manufacture" her legal claims against B&B. (Ans. 2). B&B further argues that since the prior case and the instant action both included ERISA claims, the actions are sufficiently similar and that the prior case can be used to show that Benders purposefully manipulated the circumstances of her termination to support a claim for retaliation.

We agree with Benders that evidence of the prior wage case is not relevant to the instant action, particularly in light of the fact that the prior case was filed years before Benders came to work for B&B and the prior case did not involve B&B in any way. Benders' knowledge of ERISA or Title VII law is not an issue of fact in this case. We also agree with Benders that, to the extent that such evidence has any relevance in the instant action, the limited probative value of such evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice associated with painting Benders as litigious. Thus, such evidence would also be barred under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 (Rule 403). Therefore, we grant Benders' motion in limine to bar evidence of Benders' prior wage discrimination case.

B. Motion to Exclude Testimony Regarding Unemployment Benefits

Benders moves to bar any evidence relating to the fact that Benders collected unemployment compensation after her employment was terminated by B&B. Benders argues that such evidence is not relevant with respect to any issue including the calculation of actual damages. Benders cites to the "collateral source rule," which generally does not allow deduction of benefits received from a third party from awards of actual damages in employment cases. Perry v. Larson, 794 F.2d 279, 286 (7th Cir. 1986). As the Seventh Circuit has stated "[t]he purpose of the collateral source rule is 'not to prevent the plaintiff from being overcompensated but rather to prevent the tortfeasor from paying twice.'" Flowers v. Kmatsu Min. Systems, Inc., 165 F.3d 554, ...


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