United States District Court, D. New Jersey
F. MEIL On behalf of Plaintiff
J. WAGNER, AMY L. WYNKOOP, LAW OFFICES OF THOMAS J. WAGNER,
JOHN F. KENNEDY BOULEVARD On behalf of Defendant County of
CHRISTINE P. O'HEARN CHRISTOPHER ALBERT REESE BROWN &
CONNERY, LLP, On behalf of Defendant Rowan College at
Gloucester County Gloucester County Police Academy
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
before the Court is the motion of Defendant Rowan College at
Gloucester County Gloucester County Police Academy
(“RCGC”) pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule
42(b) to sever the trial in this case, which concerns claims
by Plaintiff, Tiffany O'Leary, against RCGC and Defendant
the County of Salem for discrimination based on sex,
disability, and whistleblowing activity.
worked as a corrections officer at Salem County Correctional
Facility (“SCCF”), and after several years in
that position, Plaintiff's employment with Salem County
changed from a corrections officer to a Salem County
Sheriff's Officer recruit. She left her position at SCCF
and began attending the RCGC. Plaintiff was dismissed from
the police academy and claims that RCGC violated her rights
under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §
12111 et seq. during her time there. Plaintiff also claims
that while she was employed by Salem County at SCCF and as a
Salem County Sheriff's Office recruit, Salem County
violated her rights under the New Jersey Law Against
Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.,
and the New Jersey Contentious Employee Protection Act
(CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq.
argues that Plaintiff's sole remaining claim against it
is for disability discrimination under the ADA, which
occurred while Plaintiff was attending the police academy,
and that claim is separate and distinct from her claims
against Salem County for sex discrimination and
whistleblowing, which occurred while she was a corrections
officer at SCCF and after she was discharged from the police
academy. RCGC argues that trying Plaintiff's claims
against RCGC and Salem County in one trial would prolong the
trial, prejudice RCGC by requiring it to incur substantial
defense costs during long periods when the trial focused on
the claims against Salem County, and further prejudice RCGC
by a jury being swayed by spillover “guilt by
association” evidence against Salem County.
County has opposed RCGC's motion,  arguing that
Plaintiff's claims overlap, separate trials would be
duplicative and a waste of judicial resources, both Salem
County and RCGC share the same economic expert, and having
separate trials would actually prejudice Salem County rather
than the other way around.
For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and
economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or
more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, counterclaims, or
third-party claims. When ordering a separate trial, the court
must preserve any federal right to a jury trial.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(b). The district court is given broad
discretion in reaching its decision whether to order separate
trials. Thabault v. Chait, 541 F.3d 512, 529 (3d
Cir. 2008). “The party seeking bifurcation has the
burden of showing that bifurcation is proper in light of the
general principle that a single trial tends to lessen the
delay, expense and inconvenience to all parties.”
Raritan Baykeeper, Inc. v. NL Industries, Inc., 2014
WL 4854581, at *3 (D.N.J. 2014) (quoting Miller v. New
Jersey Transit Rail Operations, 160 F.R.D. 37, 40
(D.N.J. 1995) (citation omitted)).
Court agrees with Salem County, and its reasons for opposing
RCGC's motion, that conducting separate trials would not
be convenient or expedite and economize the parties' and
judicial resources. Even though Plaintiff's claims
against RCGC concern disability discrimination while she was
attending the police academy, and Plaintiff's claims
against Salem County involve sex discrimination and
whistleblowing activity while she was a corrections officer
at SCCF, the facts to support Plaintiff's claims are more
of a cumulative series of events rather than two distinct and
unrelated periods of employment. Plaintiff remained an
employee of Salem County during her time at the police
academy, and the evidence shows that the police academy staff
communicated with Salem County staff about Plaintiff.
Court recognizes that some evidence relevant to
Plaintiff's claims against Salem County will not be
relevant to her claims against RCGC and vice-versa, but the
majority of the evidence and testimony, including a shared
expert, will be relevant to both. Holding two separate trials
in this case would waste more resources than preserve them.
regard to RCGC's argument about how Plaintiff's
proofs against Salem County may spillover and prejudice how a
jury views Plaintiff's proofs against RCGC, the Court
does not find this concern compelling, and nothing that
carefully crafted jury interrogatories and instructions, both
during and after trial, cannot cure. See, e.g.,
U.S. v. Riley, 621 F.3d 312, 335 (3d Cir. 2010)
(finding that “any prejudice that might have resulted
from the joint trial was easily cured by the District
Court's jury instructions”); Bavendam v.
Pearson Educ., Inc., 2013 WL 5530008, at *3 (D.N.J.
2013) (denying defendant's motion ...