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Keene v. Sears

September 4, 2007

WILLARD KEENE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SEARS, ROEBUCK & CO., INC., ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hughes, M.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This motion having come before the Court by Defendants Sears, Roebuck, and Company et al. for Motions in Limine to Preclude Evidence of Plaintiff's character [Docket Entry # 52], and to Preclude Evidence of Allegedly Improper Transactions [Docket Entry # 53], both returnable September 4, 2007 in preparation for trial, which is set to begin on September 4, 2007.

I. DEFENDANTS' MOTION IN LIMINE

A. Defendants' Motion to Preclude Evidence of Plaintiff's Character

The proposed reputation testimony of Plaintiff Willard Keene's character is inadmissible. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 401 "[r]elevant evidence is evidence having 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 it." Accordingly, "[a]ll relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided . . . by these rules." Fed. R. Evid. 402. Evidence that is not relevant is not admissible. Id.

Generally, character evidence is not relevant and thus is inadmissible. Specifically, "[e]vidence to prove a person's character or trait of character is not admissible for the purpose of proving action in conformity therewith on a particular occasion." See Fed. R. Evid. 404(a). However, three exceptions apply. First, evidence of a pertinent character trait offered by an accused, or offered by the prosecution to rebut the same pertinent character trait is admissible. Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(1). Second, evidence of a pertinent character trait of the victim of the crime offered by the accused, or by the prosecution to rebut the same, or evidence of a character trait of peacefulness of the victim by the prosecution in a homicide case to rebut evidence that the victim was the first aggressor is admissible. Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(2). Third, evidence of the character of a witness, as provided by Federal Rules of Evidence 607- 609, are relevant. Fed. R. Evid. 404(a)(3). In addition to the aforementioned exceptions, character is also relevant when it is an essential element of a claim or defense. See Fed. R. Evid. 405(b). The courts have held that character is not an essential element of an employment claim. See Johnson v. Pistilli, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14931, at *4-7, *9-11 (N.D. Ill. 1996) (while character may be an essential element in a defamation action, character is clearly not an essential element of a charge, claim, or defense under Title VII).

In addition, pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 404(b), evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is inadmissible to prove character; however, it may be admissible for other purposes, such as to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, common plan and scheme, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident. Reputation evidence is not evidence of "other crimes, wrongs, or acts" pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). See also Johnson, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, at *8.

Here, Plaintiff wishes to introduce good character evidence through reputation witnesses in order to show that he acted in conformity with that character. This type of evidence is the exact type of character evidence that the rule forbids. Thus, Federal Rules of Evidence 404(a)(1) and (2) are inapplicable since this is a civil lawsuit. Federal Rule of Evidence.404(a)(3) is also inapplicable since Plaintiff's character as a witness is not at issue. Moreover, Federal Rule of Evidence 405(b) is inapplicable since character is not an essential element of an employment discrimination claim. Therefore, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a), Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude Evidence of Plaintiff's Character is Granted.

B. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude Evidence of Allegedly Improper Transactions

The evidence of discounts related to Transactions 017441227291, 017441035373, and 017440202589 are admissible as relevant evidence. However, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 608(b), extrinsic evidence about specific acts will not be permitted during cross-examination.

1. Mr. Bhatnagar

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 401 "[r]elevant evidence is evidence having 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 it." Accordingly, "[a]ll relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided . . . by these rules." Fed. R. Evid. 402. Evidence that is not relevant is not admissible. Id.

Here, Mr. Bhatnagar's own discounting of merchandise to customers is highly relevant pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402. Evidence relating to Mr. Bhatnagar's treatment of other employees who extended discounts to customers and his own discounting of merchandise allegedly in violation of Company policy without repercussion raises substantial questions as to Mr. Bhatnagar's motivation in terminating plaintiff. The evidence is directly relevant to (1) Mr. Bhatnagar's credibility regarding his purported belief that Plaintiff's actions were in violation of Company policy, (2) the credibility of Sears' assertion that Plaintiff's actions constituted a terminable offense, (3) the disparate treatment of Plaintiff in comparison to others who engaged in similar conduct but were not disciplined or terminated, and (4) Mr. Bhatnagar's motive, state of mind, and intent in terminating Plaintiff.*fn1

Thus, pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402, Mr. Bhatnagar's conduct is relevant. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude Evidence of Allegedly Improper ...


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