United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 1, 2005.
DIANE STACKHOUSE, Plaintiff
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE and COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine to
preclude the introduction of evidence related to a disciplinary
investigation at trial. For the reasons that follow, the motion
will be granted in part and denied in part.
This case involves claims by Diane Stackhouse ("Stackhouse")
brought against defendants Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") and
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pursuant to Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17. (See Doc. 1).
Stackhouse, a female Pennsylvania State Police trooper, contends
that PSP's discretionary process of promotion from the rank of
lieutenant to captain has a disparate impact on women, and that
she was the victim of disparate treatment. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 17, 20;
In July 2003, during the pendency of this case, the State
Police Disciplinary Board issued a report accusing Stackhouse of
improperly attending and influencing a preliminary hearing in
violation of various field regulations. (Doc. 90 at 28).
Stackhouse was terminated from PSP, and she subsequently filed a grievance pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining
agreement. (Doc. 83, Ex. 3 ¶ 19; Doc. 83, Ex. 3 at exs. 7, 8).
The arbitrator found that there was "substantial evidence that
[Stackhouse] engaged in inappropriate, unprofessional conduct in
violation of numerous Field Regulations," but that suspension
without pay was warranted rather than termination. She was
ultimately reinstated to her former position without backpay.
(Doc. 83, Exs. 3, 10 at 22, 30).
Stackhouse subsequently filed an amended pleading in this case,
arguing that PSP's investigation and her discharge were acts of
retaliation. By order of court dated November 15, 2004, summary
judgment was entered against plaintiff and for defendants on this
retaliation claim. (See Doc. 98)
The instant motion requests that defendants be precluded from
introducing evidence of the disciplinary investigation and action
at trial. Stackhouse contends that, because judgment was entered
in favor of defendants on the retaliation claim, evidence of the
disciplinary proceedings is irrelevant and, in any event,
unfairly prejudicial to her case.
"Relevant evidence" is evidence that has "any tendency to make
the existence of any fact that is of consequence . . . more or
less probable." FED. R. EVID. 401; United States v. Trala,
386 F.3d 536, 545 (3d Cir. 2004). While relevant evidence is
generally admissible, it may be excluded where 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; United
States v. Rutland, 372 F.3d 543, 546 (3d Cir. 2004).
In a discrimination case, evidence of subsequently discovered
employee misconduct is not relevant to a determination of
employer liability. See McKennon v. Nashville Banner Publ'g
Co., 513 U.S. 352, 359-60 (1995). However, such evidence is
relevant for a determination of any damages. When an employer
demonstrates that later-discovered misconduct would have resulted
in the same adverse employment action, the employee may not seek
reinstatement or front-pay damages. See id. at 362. Instead,
the employee is limited to back-pay damages for the period of
time between the adverse action and the employer's discovery of
the misconduct. See id.; Mardell v. Harleysville Life Ins.
Co., 65 F.3d 1072, 1073-74 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Lapham v.
Vanguard Cellular Systems, Inc., 102 F. Supp. 2d 266, 269 (M.D.
Pa. 2000) ("[A]n employer's liability for damages arising from
discriminatory conduct ends when the employer has a valid reason
for [the] employment decision."); Wright v. Montgomery County,
No. 96-4597, 2002 WL 265031, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 25, 2002);
Adelman v. GMAC Mortgage Corp., No. 97-691, 1998 WL 51131 (E.D.
Pa. Feb. 5, 1998);
In the matter sub judice, defendants argue that the
violations of field regulations that lead to Stackhouse's
suspension in 2003 were of sufficient magnitude that she would
not have been promoted to the rank of captain at that time. This
assertion misapprehends the relevant issue. Stackhouse contends
that she should have been promoted to captain before the alleged
misconduct occurred. The issue is thus not whether Stackhouse
would have been entitled to promotion at the time of the misconduct, but whether Stackhouse, having
already attained the rank of captain, would have been entitled to
continue to hold the rank of captain in the wake of the
violations. Hence, evidence of the regulations that Stackhouse
violated and her resulting suspension is only relevant if
defendants intend to show that she would have been demoted or
terminated from the rank of captain.*fn1 In the event such
evidence is proffered, the probative value of the disciplinary
record would likely outweigh the potential for prejudice,
confusion of the issues, and the like. See FED. R. EVID. 403.
However, the court will have to address the issue in context and
after defendants' timely proffer. Accordingly, a ruling on
plaintiff's motion is deferred until the time of trial. If the
evidence is admitted, the court will consider an appropriate
limiting instruction and will seek input regarding the same from
The court would be remiss if it did not observe that the
introduction at trial of the specific facts underlying the
violations might prove cumbersome and distracting, and their
probative value could prove to be outweighed by a danger of
confusing the issues and misleading the jury. See FED. R. EVID.
403. Accordingly, the court will also require defendants to make
offers of proof at trial for the admission into evidence of any
facts underlying the violations and subsequent suspension. The court will, either sua sponte or upon request
of counsel, offer a limiting instruction to the jury regarding
the use of any factual evidence admitted.*fn2 See United
States v. Sriyuth, 98 F.3d 739, 748 (3d Cir. 1996).
An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, this 1st day of September, 2005, upon consideration of
plaintiff's motion in limine (Doc. 124), and for the reasons set
forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that:
1. A ruling on the motion in limine (Doc. 124) is
DEFERRED until trial.
2. Defendants shall not be permitted to introduce at
trial evidence of plaintiff's violations of the field
regulations or her subsequent suspension pending
disposition of the motion in limine (Doc. 124).
3. Defendants shall make offers of proof at trial for
any evidence related to plaintiff's violations of
field regulations or her subsequent suspension. Upon
admitting any such evidence the court shall, either
sua sponte or at the request of plaintiff's
counsel, provide limiting instructions to the jury.
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