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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Matamoros

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 16, 2017

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
SERAPIA MATAMOROS, et al., Plaintiff-Intervenors,
v.
TRANS OCEAN SEAFOODS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. Richard A. Jones, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Plaintiff-Intervenors' (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) Motions in Limine. Dkt. # 99. For the reasons that follow the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the motions.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Trans Ocean Seafoods, Inc. (“Trans Ocean”) engaged in illegal discriminatory and retaliatory practices against certain individuals employed to harvest shellfish on tidal flats near Mt. Vernon and Bellingham, Washington. Dkt. # 1 at 3-7. Plaintiff-Intervenors are among the victims of these alleged practices. Dkt. # 11. Discovery has closed, the dispositive motions deadline has passed, and trial is set for March 27, 2017.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Parties may file motions in limine before or during trial “to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered.” Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n.2 (1984). To resolve such motions, the Court is guided by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 401 and 403. Specifically, the Court considers whether evidence “has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, ” and whether “the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. But the Court may exclude relevant evidence if “its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Immigration Status

         Plaintiffs move to exclude “any inquiry, evidence, argument, suggestion or mention of the immigration status, work authorization, or documents that indicate such information of Plaintiffs-Intervenors, Claimant, their family members, or their witnesses.” Dkt. # 99 at 2-4. Trans Ocean opposes the motion, arguing that the immigration status of certain claimants is relevant and that introducing this evidence poses “essentially no danger” because Skagit County and King County, Washington are “sanctuary counties” that do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Dkt. # 115 at 4.

         The Court GRANTS in part and RESERVES in part Plaintiffs' motion. The Court excludes all evidence concerning the immigration status of any party, claimant, witness, or other individual implicated in this matter. Trans Ocean asserts that one of the claimants, Ms. Sanchez Perea, lied about her age on her I-9 form and that Plaintiffs' requested relief would preclude efforts to impeach her. At this time, the Court leaves open the possibility that Ms. Perea's I-9 form may be redacted such that it would be admissible for the limited purpose of impeachment. A redacted version of the I-9 form must eliminate any and all information about Ms. Perea's immigration status. The Court thus RESERVES ruling on the narrow issue of whether a properly redacted version of Ms. Perea's I-9 form will be admitted for the limited purpose of impeachment. If Trans Ocean wishes to use the form at trial, then within seven (7) days from the date of this Order, Trans Ocean is ordered to serve upon Plaintiffs for inspection a proposed redacted version of Ms. Perea's I-9 form.

         Trans Ocean's remaining assertions of relevance are unpersuasive. For example, it speculates that claimants may have brought this action for the purpose of acquiring U visas. Trans Ocean, however, offers no meaningful evidence to substantiate this claim. Even in cases where immigration status does carry some degree of weight, it poses a serious risk of unfair prejudice under Rule 403. See, e.g., Salas v. Hi-Tech Erectors, 230 P.3d 583, 587 (Wash. 2010) (holding that trial court abused its discretion by admitting probative information about a plaintiff's immigration status when doing so was outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice).

         As for Trans Ocean's contention that immigration is not a concern given the sanctuary status of Skagit County and King County, the Court finds that Trans Ocean is estopped from this line of reasoning. In a previous motion, Trans Ocean relied extensively on the “current political climate” as engendering a “palpable reason” for witnesses to “fear for their safety and their families.” Dkt. # 91 at 3. In support of that motion, Trans Ocean submitted several articles reporting on the extent to which immigration has dominated recent headlines and cultivated fear among numerous communities. Dkt. ## 92-6, 92-7, 92-8, 92-9. All of those articles discuss the new administration's plans to remove current protections in place for certain undocumented immigrants. Id. It is disingenuous for Trans Ocean to now argue that sanctuary counties are places where “there is essentially no danger that the jury in this case would alter its decision based on information about the charging parties' immigration status.” Dkt. # 115 at 4. Indeed, even the article that Trans Ocean submits in support of its opposition to Plaintiffs' motion in limine undermines its position. That article states: “President Donald Trump has ordered cuts in federal grants for cities that offer safe harbor for undocumented immigrants.” Dkt. # 116-3 at 2.

         B. Sexual Behavior ...


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