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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Schott North America

February 5, 2009

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, ARLENE ANDERSON, CAROLYN BLOCKUS, LAURA FIGUEROA, DEBORAH GDOVIN, PATRICIA PAVALONIS, AND YVONNE PRYWARA, PLAINTIFFS
v.
SCHOTT NORTH AMERICA, INC. DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court are the parties' motions in limine in the instant employment discrimination case. Having been fully briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

Background

This case concerns the 2004 reorganization of glassmaking operations at a plant in Duryea, Pennsylvania operated by Defendant Schott North America ("Schott").*fn1 Prior to the reorganization, glassmaking production had been divided into two sets of jobs. Jobs on the "cold end" of the production line were largely staffed by women, while those on the "hot end" of the line were largely performed by men. The reorganization resulted in the elimination of one type of glass production from the factory and a downsizing of the workforce. The division of production between the "hot end" and "cold end" was eliminated. In order to staff the reorganized production line, defendant created the new position of "Melting Line Operator" ("MLO"). Plaintiffs contend that the system that defendant developed and used to assign the new MLO--referred to here as "the matrix"--resulted in unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. They contend that the matrix as designed and implemented by defendant both enshrined a long history of discrimination against women in training and job assignment and improperly valued the skills most likely possessed by men. Plaintiffs raise both a disparate impact and a direct sex discrimination claim.

Discussion

The parties raise a variety of motions in limine. The court will address each in turn.

I. Plaintiffs' Motions

a. Plaintiff EEOC's Motion to Exclude any and all Reference to Lori Zielinski's Alleged Sexual Encounter with Robert Zielinski at Defendant's Worksite

Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeks to an order from the court excluding from admission at trial any evidence related to Lori Zelinski's alleged sexual encounter with her husband Robert at the Defendant Company (Doc. 78). Zelinski is one of the plaintiffs represented by the EEOC in the case. Defense counsel asked Lori Zelinski during her deposition if she had ever been caught having sexual relations at work with her husband, who also employed by defendant. Zelinski offered a categorical denial and claimed that any individual who made such an allegation would be lying. The EEOC contends that questions about this alleged encounter would be irrelevant, unduly embarrassing and unduly prejudicial, especially because no such encounter ever occurred.

The defendant has notified the court that it does not oppose this motion (Doc. 109), and the court will therefore grant it.

II. Defendants' Motions

a. Social Security Disability Income Benefits for Claimants Deborah Gdovin and Laura Figueroa

Defendant seeks an order from the court directing that claimants Deborah Gdovin and Laura Figueroa cannot recover back pay or front pay during the period when they were covered by Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits (Doc. 81). Plaintiffs have notified the court that they do not oppose this motion (Doc. 103), and the court will therefore grant it. At the same time, the court notes that Gdovin and Figueroa are not precluded from recovering other damages, such as compensatory or punitive damages, as deemed appropriate by the jury.

b. Plaintiffs Gdovin, Moran and Guzik

Defendant argues that plaintiffs Deborah Gdovin, Margaret Moran and Sally Guzik are, for various reasons, precluded from arguing or presenting evidence that they were rejected from the jobs in question (Doc. 83). Plaintiff Gdovin has admitted that she suffered from a physical disability that prevented her from working on the date of her layoff, and has received Social Security Disability benefits as a result. Neither Plaintiff Moran nor Guzik submitted bids for the jobs in question, and therefore cannot argue that they were denied positions in that process. Defendant seeks an order precluding these defendants from arguing that they were rejected from the jobs, as well as an order preventing the plaintiffs from presenting the jury with any statistical evidence based on the premise that these claimants were rejected for the jobs in question. Finally, defendant requests that the court enter judgment against these plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs respond that the defendant made the identical arguments in its motion for summary judgment, and is merely attempting to reargue the meaning of the evidence in its motion in limine. The court agrees with the plaintiffs. The defendant had an opportunity to argue that these plaintiffs lacked evidence to support their claims in its motion for summary judgment. The court considered the evidence and concluded that a reasonable juror could find for the plaintiffs based on these facts. The defendant should not use a motion in limine as a motion for reconsideration. Neither should a motion in limine serve as piecemeal litigation, taking as many bites at the apple as necessary to achieve the litigant's desired end.*fn2

In any event, the motion is premature, as the court has not had the chance to evaluate the testimony that plaintiffs will present at trial. The defendant may make an appropriate motion at the close of the plaintiff's case if the evidence for these plaintiffs' claims appears insufficient to go to a jury. The instant motion, however, will be denied.

c. Lay Opinion Testimony Regarding the Import of Cold-End Tasks

Defendant seeks an order from the court prohibiting the plaintiffs from eliciting "lay opinion" testimony regarding the relative import of cold end tasks to the manufacturing process (Doc. 85). Defendant anticipates that plaintiffs will attempt to obtain such testimony from two witnesses, Michael Kepich, a union steward who disagreed with the rating process, and Bertha Yuhas, a long-time employee who testified in her deposition that cold-end tasks were more important than hot-end ones. Defendant claims that this evidence about the importance of cold-end tasks is not relevant to the plaintiffs' claims and constitutes prohibited lay opinion testimony.

The court will deny defendant's motion with respect to Mr. Kepich. At issue in this case is whether the defendant discriminated against women in constructing a skills matrix for assigning positions after the factory reorganization. Kepich played a role in designing the matrix at issue here, and his experience and assumptions in creating that matrix are relevant to plaintiffs' discrimination claims. Kephich can also testify on the process of calculating matrix scores and their use in assigning jobs. Kepich therefore has knowledge of the "relative import of cold end tasks" in designing and employing the matrix. This case is largely about the process that defendant used to reassign jobs in the factory's reorganization and the way that the weighting of skills served to discriminate against female employees. Kepich's knowledge of that process would therefore have a "tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less likely." FED. R. OF EVID. 401. Kepich's opinion on the import of cold end tasks is also not unduly prejudicial. Defendant contends that the jury would be misled by testimony on the import of cold-end tasks, since they relate largely to a type of production eliminated in the reorganization. The court finds that a jury could easily understand that Kephich's testimony relates to the way that the new jobs incorporated assessments and assumptions about the old jobs, and would not be unduly swayed by discussions of the skill involved in performing each task.

The court will also deny the motion with respect to Ms. Yuhas. Yuhas, who had more than thirty years of experience working on the cold end of the production line, also worked to train successful applicants for positions in the reorganized factory. Yuhas therefore has knowledge of how cold end tasks were performed and the skills required to perform them. She also has knowledge of how the new production methods incorporated those skills. Yuhas's experience training workers in the new methods is also relevant to the question of how the new jobs incorporated worker's old skills and thus to a central question in the case. To the extent that her testimony addresses the "relative importance" of cold-end tasks, that testimony has a "tendency to make the existence" of a job design that improperly weighted skills possessed by men in the matrix "more or less likely." FED. R. EVID. 401. The testimony is also not unduly prejudicial. A jury can easily determine how much credit to give Yuhas's assessment of the skills required to perform the jobs and would not give undue credit to Yuhas's long experience with the company in evaluating the process of creating new positions.

The court likewise rejects defendant's argument that both witnesses' testimony on the relative importance of cold end tasks to the production process would be improper lay opinion testimony. As the court understands the proposed testimony, both Kepich and Yuhas will testify as to the earlier organization of the factory, the relative skills required for that work, and the way that those earlier skills were incorporated in the matrix that determined which employees would be retained after the reorganization. Both Kepich and Yuhas had extensive experience in the factor and first-hand knowledge of how at least some of the jobs that made up the matrix worked. Federal Rule of Evidence 701 limits lay opinion testimony to that which is "(a) rationally based on the perception of the witness, (b) helpful to a clear understanding of the witness' testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, and (c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702." The court concludes that the witnesses' testimony could meet this criteria. Defendant can demonstrate the limits of the witnesses' knowledge on cross-examination. In any case, the court cannot anticipate the exact contents of the testimony at this time. In that sense, the motion is also premature. The court will of course entertain an appropriate objection to particular testimony offered at trial.

d. Stray Remarks Untimely Made by Non-Decision-Makers

Defendant seeks the exclusion of testimony regarding stray remarks made remote from the employment decision at issue in the case and/or by individuals who were not involved in the decision at issue. (Doc. 87). Defendant points to statements from Donald Krafjack and Phil Kolatis, foremen on the "hot end" of the line, that they did not want to supervise any women on their shifts. Another employee, Lenny Cushner, claimed that the plant would "go to hell" if women had jobs traditionally held by men. Defendant claims that this testimony is inadmissible hearsay and irrelevant even if admissible under a hearsay exception. The statements were made by persons unrelated to the decision making process and made at a time far distant from the employment decisions here in question. The ...


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