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Pittsburgh Amy Branch v. Brennan

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 19, 2019

PITTSBURGH AMY BRANCH, Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN BRENNAN, UNITED STATES POST MASTER GENERAL, Defendant.

          OPINION ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE AT ECF 110, 118, 115, 104, 102, 120, AND 112

          J. NICHOLAS RANJAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an employment discrimination case brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A jury trial is set to begin on August 26, 2019. On August 16, 2019, this Court entered an Order on the above-titled motions at ECF 154. Below is the Court's reasoning in support of that Order:

         1) As to Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony by Thomas Linder (ECF 110), the Motion is DENIED.

         The Post Office moved to exclude the testimony of Post Office manager Thomas Linder, arguing that Mr. Linder has no relevant knowledge to the issues in this case because he has little recollection of Ms. Branch and was not involved in her termination. In response, Plaintiff argues that Richard Gurneal, the decision-maker who terminated Ms. Branch, stated under oath in a 2012 affidavit that Mr. Linder was Ms. Branch's supervisor on the day he terminated Ms. Branch.

         The Court finds, based on Fed.R.Evid. 401 and 402, that Mr. Linder's testimony may be relevant to the instant matter since he was Ms. Branch's direct supervisor at the time in question. Whatever, if anything, Mr. Linder may know or recall goes to the weight of the evidence.

         2) As to Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony by George Spencer (ECF 118), the Motion is GRANTED.

         The Post Office moved to exclude the testimony of George Spencer, Labor Relations Director for the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees. The Post Office argues that Mr. Spencer has no relevant knowledge to the issues in this case because he did not work directly with Ms. Branch and was not involved in her termination. In response, Ms. Branch argues that Mr. Spencer may provide relevant testimony regarding the rights of a casual employee at the Post Office.

         The Court agrees with the Post Office's position. Based on the parties' filings, it appears that Mr. Spencer can provide no testimony as to the termination at issue in Ms. Branch's complaint. Further, his testimony about how casual employees are intimidated by management is not only irrelevant, but poses a serious risk of confusing the jury, and is therefore inadmissible under Rule 403.[1]

         3) As to Defendant's Motion Regarding Note Memorializing Plaintiff's Threat (ECF 115), the Motion is GRANTED.

         The Post Office moved to introduce a note written by a former Post Office employee, Sandra Roberts, on the date of Plaintiff's termination that memorializes Plaintiff's alleged threat of violence against a superior. The Post Office argues that the note should be admitted because 1) it is not hearsay since it is not “offer[ed] in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted, ” Fed.R.Evid. 801(c), but rather to show its effect on Mr. Gurneal, who relied upon the note and its contents in terminating Ms. Branch; and 2) even if it were hearsay, Ms. Roberts's note, which was attached to a termination memorandum, is a business record admissible under the business records exception. See Fed. R. Evid. 803(6). Ms. Branch responds by arguing that, under Fed.R.Evid. 901, the note is inadmissible because Ms. Roberts will not be at trial to authenticate the note.

         The Court finds that the note is admissible because it is not being admitted for the truth of its contents. See e.g. Jones v. Univ. of Pa., No. 00-2695, 2003 WL 21652083, at *4 n.3 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 20, 2003) (“[S]o long as complaints received by an employer are offered to show the state of mind of the employer (a crucial factor in discrimination cases), and not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted, such complaints do not constitute hearsay.”). Further, it falls under the business record exception even if the note were hearsay, since it is attached to the termination memorandum and is kept as part of the Post Office's personnel records. See Martin v. Funtime, Inc., 963 F.2d 110, 116 (6th Cir. 1992) (affirming admissibility of personnel files as business records under Rule 803(6)). Finally, the note may be authenticated by Mr. Gurneal, as recipient of the note, rather than solely Ms. Roberts. Bouriez v. Carnegie Mellon Univ., No. Civ.A. 02-2104, 2005 WL 2106582, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2005) (“[Rule 901] does not require the author to authenticate a document, but other facts and circumstances can provide ample basis for authentication.”).

         4) As to Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Previously Dismissed Claims (ECF 104), the Motion is GRANTED IN PART.

         The Post Office moved to exclude evidence of previously dismissed claims, arguing under Fed.R.Evid. 401, 402, and 403 that evidence of Ms. Branch's retaliation claims should be excluded since the Court dismissed these claims on summary judgment. Ms. Branch's retaliation claims had been that 1) she was retaliatorily terminated in 2012 because she had filed a 2010 Equal Employment Opportunity complaint for sexual harassment (“Claim 1”), and 2) the Post Office did not rehire Ms. Branch in 2015 due to her unlawful 2012 termination (“Claim 2”). In response, Ms. Branch argues that evidence of Claim 1 is relevant because the Post Office will introduce evidence that Ms. Branch was “moved around” the Post Office because of poor work performance, while Ms. Branch maintains it was in retaliation to the 2010/2011 sexual harassment allegation. Further, Ms. Branch argues that evidence of Claim 2 is relevant to the issue of mitigation of damages.

         The Court is persuaded that if the Post Office opens the door and introduces evidence that Ms. Branch was “moved around” the Post Office due to poor work performance prior to her 2012 termination, then Ms. Branch may introduce evidence regarding the 2010/2011 sexual harassment allegation. Using the evidence in this way will minimize the risk of jury confusion, and is not evidence relating specifically to the retaliation claim that was dismissed. However, evidence of Claim 2, regarding her attempts to be rehired by ...


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