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EPSTEIN v. KALVIN-MILLER INTERNATIONAL

November 1, 2000

ALLEN EPSTEIN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
KALVIN-MILLER INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Peter Leisure, United States District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

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.

BACKGROUND

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, "Motion"].

DISCUSSION

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

Defendant now requests that the Court exclude evidence of plaintiff's medical condition, except that to which the parties stipulated. Defendant argues that further evidence regarding plaintiff's disability would be irrelevant, highly prejudicial, and cumulative and should be excluded under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. See Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion In Limine [hereinafter, "Defendant's Memo"] at 8-9.

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 ...


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