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Watson v. Commonwealth

May 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. McClure, Jr. United States District Judge

(Judge McClure)



On November 9, 2007, plaintiff, Anna Marie Watson, instituted this civil action against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare ("DPW"), setting forth claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 951, et seq. ("PHRA"). On November 22, 2007, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Rec. Doc. No. 7). In her two-part amended complaint, plaintiff contends she was discriminated against, as the result of her gender, when her seniority was stripped from her, resulting in the loss of a permanent employment position, and when defendant failed to promote her to a supervisory position for which she was qualified.

The parties have completed discovery. On August 29, 2008, defendant filed its motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 16). We issued a memorandum and order denying defendant's motion on January 21, 2009. (Rec. Doc. No. 25). On February 4, 2009, defendant filed a motion for reconsideration. (Rec. Doc. No. 27). We denied defendant's motion for reconsideration on April 9, 2009. (Rec. Doc. No. 40).

On April 8, 2009, plaintiff filed a motion in limine, seeking to prevent defendant's other female employees from testifying that they have not suffered discrimination. (Rec. Doc. No. 38). On April 14, 2009, defendant filed a motion in limine, in an effort to exclude evidence pertaining to the seniority lottery conducted on June 22, 2005. (Rec. Doc. No . 43). The requisite briefs for both motions have been filed. These matters are now ripe for disposition.

For the following reasons, we will deny plaintiff's motion in limine and deny defendant's motion in limine.


1. Plaintiff's Motion in limine

According to the plaintiff, evidence must "have a proper purpose" to be "admissible under Federal Rules of Evidence 401-403." Ansell v. Green Acres Contracting Co., 347 F.3d 515, 530 (3d Cir. 2000). Plaintiff contends that defendant runs afoul of this by attempting to enter the testimony of other female employees at Camp #3 into evidence because those employees "are not in comparable positions to the plaintiff, and the absence of discrimination against other employees [does] not disprove the actions of which [p]laintiff complains." (Rec. Doc. No. 39, p. 2). In support of her assertion, plaintiff claims that the differences in the circumstances in the positions held by the female employees renders their testimony irrelevant. Furthermore, plaintiff also argues that defendant wishes to demonstrate, in violation of law, that it acted properly in this instance because it had done so in other situations. See id. at 520 (citing Gov't of the Virgin Islands v. Pinney, 967 F.2d 912, 914 (3d Cir. 1992) (holding that "other acts" evidence is inadmissible if proffered to show an individual's propensity to act in a particular manner).

In response, defendant contends that all of the testimony in question is directed at refuting plaintiff's argument that she was not promoted because there is a general attitude among the men, including management, at Camp #3 that men are better suited for certain positions and therefore receive more favorable treatment than women. Moreover, defendant notes that the testimony in question is relevant, despite the employees holding different positions at Camp #3, because all of the positions fall under the same management hierarchy, thereby permitting these proposed witnesses to assess the existence (or lack thereof) of the allegedly discriminatory management scheme and the treatment of female employees in relation to male employees.

The Federal Rules of Evidence only permit the admission of relevant evidence. Fed. R. Evid. 402. Evidence is relevant if it has "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. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), relevant "[e]vidence of other . . . acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith." Fed. R. Evid. 404(b). However, evidence of other acts is admissible "if offered for a proper purpose apart from showing that the individual is a person of a certain character." Ansell, 347 F.3d at 520 (citing Pinney, 967 F.2d at 914). Proper purposes include, but are not limited to, "proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident . . . ." Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).

After a review of the record and the applicable law, it is clear that the proposed testimony is admissible. Throughout this case, plaintiff has averred, inter alia, that she was not promoted because she was a woman and that the male-dominated management structure consistently lavished male employees, and specifically fellow male Youth Development Aides, with more favorable treatment than she received. In opposition, defendant has argued that Watson failed to secure a promotion, not because she was a woman, but because other candidates performed in a superior fashion throughout the interview process.

The outcome of this case will largely turn on whether the jury believes the legitimate reason advanced by defendant was the true reason for not promoting plaintiff, or whether that reason was simply a pretext for unlawful discrimination. In analogous cases, evidence of an employer's conduct towards other employees is relevant and admissible to show that an ...

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