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Ansell v. Green Acres Contracting Co.

October 28, 2003

HARRY B. ANSELL, APPELLANT
v.
GREEN ACRES CONTRACTING CO., INC.; PAUL HUMBERSTON; THOMAS PISULA; DOUGLAS SCHIFF



On Appeal From The United States District Court For The Western District of Pennsylvania (Civ. A. No. 99-624) District Judge: The Honorable William L. Standish

Before: Rendell, Smith and Aldisert, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued May 14, 2003

OPINION OF THE COURT

This employment discrimination case, arising under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., presents a question of admissibility under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) of a subsequent good act offered by an employer to demonstrate non-discriminatory intent—namely, the employer's favorable treatment of another older worker. Plaintiff Harry Ansell, who was 45 years old, was terminated by his supervisor, Douglas Schiff, at Green Acres Contracting Company, Inc. ("Green Acres"). Several seasons later, Schiff hired an employee who was the same age as Ansell. Ansell argues that the evidence of this subsequent hiring is irrelevant to his employer's intent as a matter of law. He also argues that evidence of the subsequent act was admitted for an improper purpose and that its unfair prejudice substantially outweighed its probative value. Because we conclude that the evidence was relevant and admitted for a proper purpose, and because its probative value was not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice, we will affirm the judgment of the District Court.

I.

Green Acres performs highway maintenance work on a seasonal basis. Harry Ansell worked as a laborer and truck driver for Green Acres during each season from 1993 until 1997. At the beginning of the 1997 season, Ansell was assigned to a five person crew led by a new foreman, Douglas Schiff. Ansell was permanently laid off in December of 1997.

Ansell filed suit in April of 1999 against Green Acres, Schiff, Green Acres' Vice President Paul Humberston, and Green Acres' President Thomas Pisula (collectively "defendants"), seeking damages for discharge in violation of the ADEA and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. § 951 et seq.*fn1 According to Ansell's theory of the case, Schiff sought to increase his crew's productivity by replacing the older members of his crew with younger workers. At trial, Ansell introduced testimony establishing that Schiff permanently laid off two truck driver/laborers on his crew. In July of 1997 Schiff replaced Roger Myers, age 47, with Scott Miller, age 26, and in December of 1997, Schiff replaced Ansell with Harry Fabian, Jr., age 28. Schiff also hired an additional worker in his twenties, Keith Summers, in July 1997 around the same time he hired Scott Miller.

Defendants responded that Schiff had legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating Ansell and offered evidence of four incidents of insubordination involving Ansell. First, in late July of 1997, Ansell insisted that he should be assigned to drive the crew truck based on his seniority, and swore at Schiff when Schiff disagreed. Then in December, Ansell argued with a state inspector about a stop and go paddle used for traffic control, refused to attend a safety meeting, and took time off from work, without permission, to go hunting.

Defendants also presented evidence regarding Schiff 's treatment of employees over the age of forty. Specifically, defendants presented the testimony of Anthony Beddingfield, who, at age 45, was hired by Green Acres in August of 1999 for a temporary laborer position and assigned to Schiff's crew. Beddingfield testified that he was asked by Schiff to stay on the crew permanently, and that he was still working for Schiff at the time of trial in 2002.

Ansell filed a motion in limine objecting to any testimony by Beddingfield concerning his hiring and treatment by Schiff.*fn2 Ansell argued that this testimony was inadmissible "other acts" evidence, offered to show propensity under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). Ansell further argued that Beddingfield's testimony was not relevant and was unfairly prejudicial. Defendants proffered that Beddingfield's testimony was admissible to show that Schiff lacked an intent to discriminate against older workers. The District Court denied Ansell's motion, declaring that Beddingfield's employment was probative of Schiff 's intent and that it was admissible under Rule 404(b). The District Court noted that Ansell had introduced evidence of numerous people under age 40 hired by Green Acres after Ansell was fired, and stated that "if that's 404(b) evidence [of intent], so is this other witness."

The ADEA and PHRA claims were tried before a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of the defendants on July 18, 2002.*fn3 Ansell appealed, challenging only the District Court's decision to admit the Beddingfield testimony under Rule 404(b). We have jurisdiction over Ansell's appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.*fn4 We exercise plenary review over the District Court's interpretation of the rules of evidence; however, assuming that the evidence could be admissible in some circumstances, we review the District Court's decision to admit that evidence for abuse of discretion. United States v. Givan, 320 F.3d 452, 460 (3d Cir. 2003). Admission of evidence is an abuse of discretion if "the district court's action was arbitrary, fanciful or clearly unreasonable.... We will not disturb a trial court's exercise of discretion unless no reasonable person would adopt the district court's view." Stecyk v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 295 F.3d 408, 412 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted).

II.

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) states, in ...


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