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Phillip Hall v. Sterling Park District

March 28, 2012

PHILLIP HALL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
STERLING PARK DISTRICT,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the court based on the parties' joint consent to the exercise of jurisdiction by a Magistrate Judge. On August 4, 2009, Judge Reinhard transferred this case to the Magistrate Judge for all further proceedings. The court granted in part, and denied in part, Defendant's motion for summary judgment on May 4, 2011. After some additional fact discovery, this case was set for a final pretrial conference. The parties submitted a proposed final pretrial order to the court on March 7, 2012. In conjunction with the final pretrial order, the parties each submitted motions in limine to the court. Plaintiff submitted two motions, and Defendants have submitted four. The motions are fully briefed, and the court will now rule.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Phillip Hall, filed two lawsuits against Defendant, Sterling Park District, that were consolidated by the court. The first complaint, filed on June 24, 2008, contained four counts alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 USC § 207, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, 820 ILCS § 105/3-4, and the Illinois Wage Payment Collection Act ("IWPCA"), 802ILCS § 115/2, and seeks back pay for overtime worked and compensation for unused vacation time. Plaintiff subsequently filed a two-count complaint on July 7, 2009 that seeks damages and equitable relief to redress alleged violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq. ("ADEA"). The court consolidated the cases in their entirety on October 7, 2009.

On September 30, 2010, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment as to all counts in Plaintiff's complaints. The court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's motion in a Memorandum Opinion and Order on May 4, 2011. Based on the court's decision, Plaintiff's claims for uncompensated accrued vacation time under the IWPCA and for violations of the ADEA remained viable.

Plaintiff was hired as the Director of Golf Operations at the Emerald Hill Golf and Learning Center (hereinafter referred to as "Emerald Hill") around May 1, 1994. At the time, Plaintiff was 42 years old. Emerald Hill was a facility owned and operated by Defendant, Sterling Park District. The Park District is governed by a publicly elected five-member Board of Commissioners ("the Board"). Plaintiff's duties included oversight of Emerald Hill and its affiliated clubhouse, golf shop, restaurant, and banquet facilities. He supervised up to four full-time employees, and more than 30 total employees. Plaintiff's supervisor was Larry Schuldt ("Schuldt"), who was the Executive Director of the Park District.

Plaintiff's employment agreement was based on three-year contracts that would automatically renew unless either party notified the other within 90 days of the end of a stated term. Plaintiff's contract renewed on a number of occasions, and Plaintiff alleges he received positive reviews during his first ten years of employment with Defendant. In November of 2005, Schuldt apparently decided not to renew Plaintiff's contract because of uncertainty about the direction the Park District was taking with regard to Emerald Hill. On November 18, 2005, Schuldt informed Plaintiff that he would be retained as an at-will employee and would receive a $1,000 per year (approximately 1%) raise. Plaintiff previously received three percent raises, and alleges that other employees received three percent raises during this time period. Schuldt reasoned that the one percent raise was based on his view that Plaintiff was performing well in only one of the three areas of his job.

After denying Plaintiff's written grievance regarding the non-renewal of his contract, the Board decided on January 16, 2006 to eliminate the positions of Director of Golf Operations and Assistant Golf Course Superintendent. The eliminated positions were replaced with the newly created positions of Golf Course Superintendent and Golf Operations Manager. Plaintiff was offered the opportunity to apply for the Golf Course Superintendent job, and did so, but he was not granted an interview. Aaron Heaton, a 23 year-old employee, was ultimately selected to fill the position without having submitted an application or being interviewed. Another 22-year-old employee, C.J. Wade ("Wade") was chosen for the position of Golf Operations Manager. Plaintiff was officially terminated in a letter dated March 23, 2006. The termination letter alluded to Plaintiff's performance, attitude, and inability to maintain respectful communications with his supervisor.

III. DISCUSSION

The motions in limine filed by both parties relate to whether certain evidence should be admitted at trial. Generally, relevant evidence is admissible unless a statute or rule provides otherwise. Fed. R. Evid. 402. "Relevant evidence means 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. "Although relevant, evidence may 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.

Evidence should only be excluded through a motion in limine if it is clearly inadmissible for any purpose. Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Techs., Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Generally, pre-trial motions to exclude evidence are disfavored. Cox v. Prime Fin. Mortgage Corp., No. 05 C 4814, 2006 WL 1049948, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 20, 2006). The preferred practice is for courts to defer evidentiary rulings until trial so the court can properly resolve questions of foundation, relevance, and prejudice. Telewizja Polska USA, Inc. v. Echostar Satellite Corp., No. 02 C 3293, 2005 WL 289967, at * 1 (N.D.Ill. Feb.4, 2005). However, a motion in limine may serve to focus the issues of a trial where they properly exclude information that would be inadmissible, clearly prejudicial, or may serve to confuse issues and mislead the jury.

A. Defendant's Motions in Limine

1. Defendant's Motion to Bar IMRF Documents and Damages Defendant moves for an order barring at trial any testimony, evidence, or argument regarding documents from the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund ("IMRF"), the amount of Plaintiff's alleged reduced IMRF pension benefit damages, or, in the alternative, barring a calculation of Plaintiff's alleged IMRF pension benefit damages based on his salary of $69,868.

Plaintiff wants to show at trial that his damages include the difference in IMRF pension benefits he would have received had he not been terminated by Defendant. Plaintiff identified certain exhibits that support his lost benefits claim, including an IMRF benefit plan booklet, an IMRF benefit statement, IMRF enrollment forms, and IMRF designation of beneficiary forms.

Defendant believes the proposed IMRF evidence from Plaintiff is inadmissible hearsay under Rule 802 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Defendant also notes that Plaintiff has not identified an expert to testify as to the IMRF damage calculations, and that Rule 701 limits lay opinion testimony to opinions or inferences that are based on a witnesses' personal knowledge and not based on other technical or specialized knowledge. Fed. R. Evid. 701.

Hearsay is a statement made outside a current trial or hearing that is being offered in to evidence to prove the truth of a matter asserted. Fed. R. Evid. 801 (c). A statement may include oral or written assertions, including documents. Fed. R. Evid. 801(a). Plaintiff believes that the IMRF documents constitute hearsay statements because they were created by someone else--an IMRF employee--and are being offered to show the truth of the assertion that Plaintiff would have received a certain amount in pension benefits. Plaintiff argues that the documents are standard business records kept by the Defendant in the normal course of business. They were produced by the Defendant and show the regularly kept records of benefits owed to Defendant's employees. The court finds that the documents appear to fall under the "business records" exception found in Rule 803(6). Fed. R. Evid. 803(6). The records ...


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