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Stackhouse v. Pennsylvania State Police

March 14, 2006

DIANE STACKHOUSE, PLAINTIFF
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE AND COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is plaintiff's motion for a new trial (Doc. 172). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

I. Statement of Facts

Diane Stackhouse ("Stackhouse"), a Lieutenant with the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP"), instituted the above-captioned case in November 2001, alleging claims of disparate impact, disparate treatment, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Specifically, Stackhouse contended that PSP's promotions process from the rank of lieutenant to captain had a disparate impact on women, and that she was a victim of disparate treatment and of retaliation. In November 2004, summary judgment was granted in favor of defendants on the retaliation claim.

Prior to trial in September 2005, the court granted two motions in limine filed by PSP, relating to evidence of a discrimination charge filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") by a former PSP employee, and to evidence of a report by Pennsylvania's Office of Inspector General ("OIG") detailing sexual misconduct at the Pennsylvania State Police. (See Docs. 153, 156.) Following four days of trial testimony the jury returned a verdict for defendants on Stackhouse's disparate treatment claim, and an advisory verdict for defendants on her disparate impact claim.*fn1 Although the findings of the advisory jury were not binding,*fn2 the court reviewed the evidence and testimony of record and agreed that plaintiff had failed to prove her disparate impact claim. Accordingly, an order was issued on October 4, 2005, granting judgment in favor of PSP on this claim. (See Doc. 175.)

Stackhouse's instant motion for a new trial argues that the court erred in excluding from trial evidence of the EEOC charge and of the OIG report. It also contends that the court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the "4/5" rule, and in instructing the jury on the burden of proof for a disparate treatment claim. The motion has been fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 provides that a new jury trial may be granted "for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law." FED. R. CIV. P. 59. However, the court's power to grant a new trial is not unlimited, and may only be exercised "to prevent injustice or to correct a verdict that was against the weight of the evidence." Am. Bearing Co., v. Litton Indus., Inc., 792 F.2d 943, 948 (3d Cir. 1984); see also Olefins Trading, Inc. v. Han Yang Chem. Corp., 9 F.3d 282, 289 (3d Cir. 1993) (stating that district court may only grant new trial on weight of evidence "where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand"). When the exclusion of evidence is at issue, a new trial should be granted where "substantial errors" in the rejection of evidence occurred. Goodman v. Pa. Turnpike Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 676 (3d Cir. 2002). When a jury instruction is at issue, a new trial should be granted when the error is fundamental or may cause a miscarriage of justice. See Wagner by Wagner v. Fair Acres Geriatric Center, 49 F.3d 1002, 1018 n.17 (3d Cir. 1995).

A. Motions in Limine

Stackhouse argues that the court erroneously excluded evidence of the EEOC charge and the OIG report. With respect to the EEOC charge, Stackhouse contends that it was relevant to demonstrate that PSP would not promote qualified women, and should have been admitted to "establish[] that in the decades-long history of the State Police no woman" had been promoted to the rank of captain until the filing of this charge. (Doc. 176 at 14.)

The EEOC charge at issue was filed in the late 1980s by former PSP Major Kathryn Doutt ("Doutt"). (See Doc. 46, Ex. 6 at 13, 19-25.) In 1988 Doutt earned the highest score on a PSP examination for promotion from the rank of lieutenant to captain. (See Doc. 46, Ex. 6 at 19.) Following the promotion of several of her colleagues Doutt requested a meeting with the then Commissioner of the State Police to discuss the prospects of her promotion. (See Doc. 46, Ex. 6 at 19.) When the Commissioner refused to meet with her Doutt filed a complaint with the EEOC. (See Doc. 46, Ex. 6 at 19.) Sometime thereafter Doutt received a promotion to the rank of captain, and her charge became moot. (See Doc. 46, Ex. 6 at 21.)

Upon reviewing the facts and deposition testimony related to Doutt's EEOC charge, this court concluded that exclusion of the evidence was warranted. (See Doc. 153.) The charge was filed nearly a decade before the facts giving rise to Stackhouse's claims, and by a former PSP employee not a party to this case. It did not pertain to the incidents at issue here, but to the hiring practices of a former PSP Commissioner not a party to this case. The allegations of the charge were never litigated or substantiated, and it was, in fact, voluntarily withdrawn. Given these circumstances, any arguable probative value of this evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to defendants, confusion of the issues, and misleading the jury. See FED. R. EVID. 403. The suppression of this evidence was not in error, and the court will decline to grant a new trial on this basis.

The court will also decline to grant a new trial based upon the exclusion of the OIG report from evidence. This report was prepared in September 2003 following a three month investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by certain members of PSP. (See Doc. 88, Attach. 1 at i.) According to the report, its purpose was to "establish the groundwork for changes and improvements [within PSP] and to deter and prevent sexual harassment and misconduct." (Doc. 88, Attach. 1 at i.) It focuses on internal hiring, complaint, and disciplinary procedures. (See Doc. 88, Attach. 1 at 6.) It is based largely upon executive orders and management directives, as well as PSP's internal records related to complaints of and investigations into sexual harassment and misconduct from the years 1995 to 2003. (See Doc. 88, Attach. 1 at 6-7.) It draws heavily upon the facts ...


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