The opinion of the court was delivered by: Peter Leisure, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Allen Epstein commenced this action on October 31, 1996
against his former employer, Kalvin-Miller International, Inc.
("Kalvin-Miller"), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities
Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 623 (a)(1)-(2), and the
New York Human Rights Law ("NYHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290, et seq. On
October 15, 1998, the Court denied defendant's motion for summary
judgment on all three statutory causes of action. See Epstein v.
Kalvin-Miller Int'l, Inc., 21 F. Supp.2d 400 (S.D.N.Y. 1998)
[hereinafter, "Epstein I"]. On June 21, 2000, the Court dismissed
plaintiff's ADA claim with prejudice, but denied defendant's motion to
dismiss plaintiff's NYHRL claim. See Epstein v. Kalvin-Miller Int'l,
Inc., 100 F. Supp.2d 222 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) [hereinafter, "Epstein II"]. Now
before the Court is defendant's Motion In Limine to exclude certain
evidence and to bifurcate the trial. Defendant's Motion is granted in
part and denied in part.
The Court has previously discussed the facts of this case in some
detail. See Epstein I, 21 F. Supp. 2d at 401-02. Accordingly, only those
facts relevant to the instant motion are recited herein. In plaintiff's
remaining claims, he alleges that when defendant fired him in 1996, it
did so based on disability and age discrimination in violation of the
NYHRL and the ADEA, respectively.
Now before the Court is defendant's Motion In Limine to: 1) Exclude
"all evidence, except such evidence as has been stipulated to, regarding
plaintiff's medical condition and any resulting disability"; 2) Bar "the
introduction of any evidence regarding alleged discriminatory remarks
made by individuals who are not involved in the decision to terminate
plaintiff's employment"; 3) Bar "the introduction of any evidence
regarding the ages or disability status of current or former defendant
employees"; and 4) "Birfurcat[e] the trial in this matter into liability
and damage phases." Defendant's Motion In Limine. [hereinafter,
I. Evidence of Plaintiff's Medical Condition
In the parties's joint Amended Pretrial Order, the parties stipulated
that "at the time of plaintiff's termination he was `disabled' under the
New York State Executive Law due to his diabetes and heart conditions."
Pretrial Order [hereinafter, "PTO"], Undisputed Fact #18. "Under federal
law, stipulations and admissions in the pleadings are generally binding
on the parties and the Court." PPX Enterprises, Inc. v. Audiofidelity.
Inc., 746 F.2d 120, 123 (2d Cir. 1984) (quoting Brown v. Tennessee Gas
Pipeline Co., 623 F.2d 450, 454 (6th Cir. 1980)). "A district court is
entitled to disregard a stipulation if to accept it would be manifestly
unjust or if the evidence contrary to the stipulation is substantial."
Id. However, in Epstein II, the Court found that "resolving all
ambiguities in favor of plaintiff, . . . plaintiff's type 2 diabetes and
heart disease, even as treated, remain `medical' disabilities within the
meaning of the NYHRL." 100 F. Supp. 2d at 229-30. Therefore, the Court
will accept the parties' stipulation as a convenient means to narrow the
issues to be decided at trial.*fn1
Evidence of plaintiff's medical condition is relevant to one element of
plaintiff's prima facie case. Plaintiff's NYHRL claim is analyzed under
the burden-shifting analysis set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.
Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). See Song v. Ives Lab., Inc., 957 F.2d 1041,
1046 (2d Cir. 1992) (citing Matter of Miller Brewing Co. v. State Div. of
Human Rights, 66 N.Y.2d 937, 939, 489 N.E.2d 745, 747 (1985)). Under the
McDonnell Douglas analysis, a plaintiff must first prove by a
preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of disability
discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802. The New York
Court of Appeals has held that to establish a prima facie case of
disability discrimination under the NYHRL, a plaintiff must show that he
"suffers from a disability and the disability caused the behavior for
which the individual was terminated." McEniry v. Landi, 84 N.Y.2d 554,
558 (1994) (holding that petitioner made out a prima facie case where
petitioner was alcoholic and was fired because of absenteeism that was the
result of his alcoholism). However, in cases where the plaintiff was not
fired as the result of identifiable conduct, as is the case here, New
York courts have held that a plaintiff can make out a prima facie case by
showing that 1) he is disabled under the NYHRL; 2) he was in fact
discharged; 3) he was qualified for the position; and 4) either that (a)
he was replaced by a person who did not have alleged disability; or (b)
he was discharged under circumstances that gives rise to an inference of
discrimination. See Delta Air Lines v. New York State Div. of Human
Rights, 652 N.Y.S.2d 253, 258 (First Department 1996); Citibank, N.A. v.
New York State Div. of Human Rights, 643 N.Y.S.2d 68 (First Dept. 1996).
See also Song, 957 F.2d at 1046.
Once plaintiff has successfully established a prima facie case, the
burden of production shifts to the defendant to "demonstrate that the
disability prevented the employee from performing the duties of the job
in a reasonable manner or that the employee's termination was motivated
by a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason." McEniry, 84 N.Y.2d at 558;
Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981). If
the defendant meets this burden, then the burden "returns to the
plaintiff, who ultimately must establish by a preponderance of the
evidence that the nondiscriminatory reasons proffered by the defendant
are a pretext for discrimination." Song, 957 F.2d at 1045.
Specifics about plaintiff's medical conditions are relevant only to the
first element in plaintiff's case, that he is disabled under the NYHRL.
Given that the parties have stipulated that due to his heart condition
and diabetes, plaintiff was disabled under the NYHRL at the time that he
was fired, any further evidence of defendant's medical condition to prove
the disability element of plaintiff's prima facie case would be a
"needless presentation of cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403.
Plaintiff argues that his medical condition is also relevant to prove
that defendant's stated reason for firing plaintiff is pretextual. See
Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion In Limine.[hereinafter,
"Plaintiff's Memo"] at 15-16. Plaintiff argues that the jury "in weighing
the ultimate issue of whether discrimination occurred could easily base
its decision not only on the fact that plaintiff suffered from certain
disabilities, but on the extent to which he suffered from them as well."
Plaintiff's Memo at 16. In other words, plaintiff argues that the jury
could infer that the more disabled a plaintiff is, the more likely he is
to have been the victim of discrimination. Plaintiff offers no case law
to support this inference.
The Court is persuaded by defendant's observation that such an
inference would be patently unfair, as it would allow a jury to "all
things being equal" assume that a paraplegic plaintiff is more likely to
have been the victim of discrimination than a "similarly situated
individual afflicted with plaintiff's heart ailments." Defendant's Memo
at 14. Although "the trier of fact may still consider the evidence
establishing the plaintiff's prima facie case and inferences properly
drawn therefrom" to determine the ultimate issue of discrimination,
Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products. Inc., 120 S.Ct. 2097, 2106
(2000), plaintiff's suggested inference would not be "proper."
Therefore, the extent of plaintiff's medical condition is not relevant to
any issue other than the threshold ...