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Employment Discrimination and Motions in Limine

August 5, 2020

In what was an otherwise unremarkable Title VII case, alleging a hostile work environment, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia made some interesting observations about the nature and purpose of a motion in limine and implemented an effective method for developing the record so that a clearer ruling could be made thereupon.  The plaintiff, self-identified as an individual of “mixed race,” identified eighty-one separate incidents as the component acts comprising his hostile work environment claim.  Though the plaintiff made clear the he did not intend to pursue each incident as an individual claim of discrimination, the District of Columbia’s Motion for Summary Judgment gave only passing mention to a handful of the incidents and deemed “woefully inadequate.”

Upon resolution of the Motion for Summary Judgment, the District filed a motion in limine that sought to exclude any evidence relating to forty-four of the eighty-one incidents alleged.  Of the 44, the plaintiff said he did not intend to introduce evidence for twenty-eight, leaving sixteen incidents at issue.  While the District argued that no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the 16 component acts were indicative of race-based discrimination or a hostile work environment, the District Court made clear that “motions in limine are designed to address discrete evidentiary issues related to trial and are not a vehicle for resolving factual disputes or testing the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s evidence.”

The District Court further noted that the factual record was so incomplete as to render it nearly impossible for the Court to determine whether the District’s arguments were even amendable to a resolution on a motion in limine. In such instances, the trial judge may exercise her discretion to require the proponent of the motion to make an offer of proof in advance of trial.  Thus, the Court held that for each of the sixteen counts remaining, the plaintiff must make an offer of proof demonstrating a factual basis that the incident was (1) motivated by discriminatory animus and (2) part of the same hostile work environment. Graves v. District of Columbia.