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Goold v. Worldwide

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 15, 2014

JOHN GOOLD, Plaintiff,
HILTON WORLDWIDE, et al., Defendants.


JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff alleges Defendants fired him in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment suffered by another employee and complaining that the other employee's firing was unlawful.

Before the Court are the motions in limine filed by Plaintiff, John Goold, and Defendants, Hilton Worldwide, Inc. and Doubletree DTW, LLC on August 25, 2014. (Docs. 50-58). The Court held a hearing on the motions on July 30, 2014, at which the Court heard the arguments of counsel.

A. Legal Standards

"Although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States , 469 U.S. 38, 40 n. 2 (1984). The Ninth Circuit explained motions in limine "allow parties to resolve evidentiary disputes ahead of trial, without first having to present potentially prejudicial evidence in front of a jury." Brodit v. Cabra , 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). Likewise, the Seventh Circuit found motions in limine are "an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Services , 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997).

Generally, motions in limine that seek exclusion of broad and unspecific categories of evidence are disfavored. See Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. , 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). A court "is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence." Wilkins v. Kmart Corp. , 487 F.Supp.2d 1216, 1218 (D. Kan. 2007). Therefore, the Sixth Circuit explained, "[A] better practice is to deal with questions of admissibility of evidence as they arise [in trial]" as opposed to ruling on a motion in limine. Sperberg , 519 F.2d at 712.

"[A] motion in limine should not be used to resolve factual disputes or weigh evidence, " C & E Services, Inc. v. Ashland Inc. , 539 F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D. D.C. 2008), because that is the province of the jury. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products , 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

B. Motions in Limine

I. The EDD Hearing

a. Plaintiff's motion

Plaintiff seeks an order excluding results of the EDD hearing, any findings made by that agency and any argument related to the EDD decision. (Doc. 50) Defendants do not oppose this motion and "state their nonopposition to the extent it only seeks to prohibit Defendants from introducing [a] finding of fact or law, judgment, conclusion, or final order made by a hearing officer, administrative law judge, or any person with the authority to make findings of fact or law in any action or proceeding before the appeals board.'" (Doc. 66) Thus, the motion in limine is GRANTED. No findings, conclusions, judgments or final orders made related to the EDD determination will be admitted.

b. Defendants' motion in limine #5

Defendants move the Court for an order prohibiting Plaintiff from introducing evidence of statements made by their employees during the EDD process as evidence to support his defamation claim. (Doc. 55) Plaintiff does not oppose this motion and states, "Plaintiff is not pursuing a self-compelled defamation claim." (Doc. 67 at 1) At the hearing, Plaintiff clarified that the defamation claim is based only upon the statements made to Defendants' employees to each other. Therefore, the motion is GRANTED. No evidence of statements made related to the EDD proceeding will be admitted as evidence of defamation.

II. Evidence not produced during discovery

Both parties seek an order precluding the use of evidence, including witnesses, at trial that were not identified in discovery.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(e) requires a party who has responded to an interrogatory or who has made a disclosure under Rule 26(a) to supplement its response in a timely manner if the party learns that its response is incomplete and if the additional information has not otherwise been made known to the other party during the discovery process. A party is prohibited from using at trial information or witnesses not disclosed during the discovery period unless the failure to supplement was substantially justified or harmless. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1); R & R Sails, Inc. v. Ins. Co. of the State of Pennsylvania , 673 F.3d 1240, 1246 (9th Cir.2012) (the party facing the preclusion of evidence under Rule 37 "bears the burden of proving that its failure to disclose the required information was substantially justified or is harmless").

To determine whether the introduction of evidence should be precluded pursuant to Rule 37, the Court considers: "(1) the surprise to the party against whom the evidence would be offered; (2) the ability of that party to cure the surprise; (3) the extent to which allowing the evidence would disrupt trial; (4) the importance of the evidence; and (5) the nondisclosing party's explanation for it[s] failure to disclose the evidence." San Francisco Baykeeper v. West Bay Sanitary Dist. , 791 F.Supp.2d 719, 733 (N.D.Cal.2011) (quoting Dey. L.P. v. Ivax Pharms., Inc. , 233 F.R.D. 567, 571 (C.D.Cal.2005)).

a. Plaintiff's motion

Plaintiff seeks an order precluding Defendant from using documents produced after the close of discovery. Specifically, Plaintiff refers to documents produced on July 23, 2014 and August 7, 2014 which include e-mails drafted by Plaintiff and sent to "agents of defendants" and "meeting minutes." (Doc. 58 at 1) However, at the hearing, Plaintiff clarified that he objects to the introduction of all of the documents contained in these productions. Plaintiff contends he has suffered prejudice by the late disclosure, and at the hearing clarified that he was not able to examine Pimental at his deposition on these issues.

Defendants admit that documents were produced after the discovery deadline but explain that they were discovered only after the deposition of Murray-which occurred after the discovery cut-off-at which counsel realized that additional documents may exist. (Doc. 69 at 3-4) Defendants conducted an additional search and located "a few documents [that] had not been seen previously." Id. at 4. Some documents were produced on May 8, 2014, and others on May 22, 2014. Id. at 10. On July 23, 2014, Defendants produced a training schedule, staff meeting minutes, e-mail correspondence and video footage reviewed during the investigation into whether Medrano was taking breaks that exceeded the allowed time. Id . On August 7, 2014, Defendants produced additional discovered documents including an e-mail chain between Plaintiff and HR Regional Director, John Sommer. Id. at 11.

Defendants contend the training schedule included information verifying that Plaintiff was scheduled to attend training related to "wage and hour compliance." (Doc. 69 at 6) The actual document indicates that the training is "HRD/GM/Finance Training." Id. at 111. The Court understands this translates to "Human Resource Director/General Manager/Finance Training." This conclusion is supported by the fact that the attendees from the Bakersfield hotel included Bill Murray, the hotel's General Manager, Michael Howard, the hotel's Human Resource Director and Plaintiff, the hotel's Director of Finance. Id . Moreover, it appears that the training may have related to meal breaks given the notation regarding whether the hotel at which each attendee work had a time clock which "restrict[s] 30 min." Id.

The meeting minutes produced documented discussions at various meetings related to the hotel's break policies (Id. at 113-114, 115, 116, 117-118, 119-120, 121-122, 123-124, 125-126, 128-129, 130-131) and a couple documents indicate Plaintiff facilitated discussions on the 10-minute break policy. Id. at 6, 119, 121.

The e-mail correspondence produced on July 23, 2014, was initiated by Plaintiff and related to the period of time Plaintiff was off work in the days before he was terminated. (Doc. 69 at 7-8, 133-136) In the correspondence, Plaintiff reports "staying home sick, " "not feeling well" and having had a "migraine headache." Id.

The other e-mail correspondence, produced on August 7, 2014, was initiated by Plaintiff and directed to Sommer related to the 2010 suspension of Dora Medrano. Id. at 7. In this exchange, Plaintiff provides a copy of the hotel's break policy and notes that there are errors and ambiguities in it. (Doc. 69 at 141-142) Sommer responds and tells Plaintiff that he was relying upon the old policy and that a new one had been issued and Medrano had signed acknowledgement of the new policy and verbalized her understanding of the policy's requirements. Id. at 141. The then-current policy was not attached to Defendants' production. In response, Plaintiff notes that it was difficult to keep up with the changing policies given other things happening in the hotel. Id. at 140. Plaintiff iterates his confidence in Medrano and stated his commitment to ensuring that the break policy is complied with in the future. Id.

The video footage at issue was that reviewed during the investigation in 2010 of whether Medrano was taking longer than 10 minutes for her rest breaks. (Doc. 69 at 8) Defendants contend there was extensive testimony related to these video clips and that they had ...

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