Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Supreme Court issues ruling in "me, too" evidence case

As predicted, the Supreme Court has reversed the 10th Circuit's decision in Sprint/United Management v. Mendelsohn, which had held that "me, too" evidence in discrimination cases is per se admissible, and that a trial court must admit any testimony of other workers who claimed to suffer the same sort of bias against them, even if a different decisionmaker was involved. In a unanimous decision, Justice Thomas wrote that it was error for the appellate court to announce per se rule of admissibility and disregard the trial's court discretionary weighing of the evidence. Thus, the Federal Rules of Evidence do not require admission of testimony by nonparties alleging discrimination at the hands of persons who played no role in the adverse employment decision challenged by the plaintiff. Instead, the trial court should balance the evidence under Evidence Rule 403 to decide on its ultimate admissibility: "The question whether evidence of discrimination by other supervisors is relevant in an individual ADEA case is fact based and depends on many factors, including how closely related the evidence is to the plaintiff's circumstances and theory of the case."

This decision makes a lot of sense. It skirts the ultimate issue of whether "me, too" evidence is admissible or inadmissible because that decision should be fought in the trial court, which is in the best position to examine the evidence and weigh its relevance and admissibility. One can't judge whether evidence of discrimination by other supervisors is admissible without considering it in light of the context and theory of the case, all of which should be done by the trial judge. This decision may not give any guidance to trial judges on how and when to admit such evidence that some (including me) were hoping for, but that guidance would have impeded on their role as the ultimate gatekeepers of relevancy.

A copy of the Court's decision can be downloaded here.

[Hat tip: SCOTUS Blog]