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Employee’s 25-year-old theft conviction inadmissible but similar acts of coworkers might show intent

By Lorene D. Park, J.D.

Ruling on several motions in limine in an employee’s discrimination suit against Allstate, a federal district court in Mississippi determined that evidence of the employee’s coworkers’ prior arrest records and prior bad acts might be admissible at trial, if they were more than simple hearsay. On the other hand, Allstate was precluded from presenting evidence of the employee’s conviction for theft in 1988 (Rideout v Allstate Insurance Co, November 20, 2013, Mills, M).

Two days after denying summary judgment on an African-American marketing employee’s race discrimination claim against Allstate, which alleged she was paid less than coworkers, was assigned a market with limited potential, was treated disrespectfully, had coworkers and managers who laughed at bigoted remarks, and was ultimately constructively discharged, the court turned to address the parties’ motions in limine.

Coworkers’ prior bad acts. Allstate sought to prevent the employee from introducing evidence of purported arrest records or prior bad acts of some of the independent agents with whom she worked. It argued the arrest records were inadmissible character evidence and the bad acts were irrelevant to the discrimination case. Denying the motion on this issue, the court noted that the employee sought to introduce the evidence not to show the agents acted in accordance with the character demonstrated but to bolster her ability to show the motivations of the relevant actors to “force her out” as well as their discriminatory practices. Although expressing wariness that the evidence would be admissible considering it seemed to be simple hearsay, the court found the prior arrest and bad acts were relevant if she could show Allstate knew or should have known of the coworkers’ records prior to assigning her to them.

Allstate’s other motions. The court denied Allstate’s motion to exclude other evidence and arguments that related to claims the court dismissed on summary judgment as well as claims that were time barred. The court found this to be an improper use of motions in limine and cautioned defense counsel that such motions were not a proper avenue to supplement a motion for summary judgment or to encourage the court to rule in its favor on a pending summary judgment motion. It also denied Allstate’s two motions to exclude purportedly irrelevant and speculative evidence, including the employee’s own testimony and notes. “The court is fully capable of applying general and well-known principles of the Federal Rules of Evidence during the course of trial,” it averred. On the other hand, the court granted the motion to prevent any reference to Allstate’s financial status and net worth, finding such information irrelevant to this case and highly prejudicial.

Employee’s prior conviction. Allstate contended that the employee’s prior 1988 conviction for stealing from Sears was probative of her credibility and it intended to present that evidence to show she had a history of untruthfulness. Granting the employee’s motion to exclude this evidence of her prior conviction, the court explained that “a childish act of stealing” over 25 years ago, when she was 17 years old and to which she pleaded guilty, “is more prejudicial than it is probative.”