Sup. Ct. opens door a little, for evidence of job bias testimony

Jeannie Shawl  Jurist Feb. 26, 2008    [JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Tuesday that testimony from workers who suffered job bias but were not parties to a federal age discrimination case “is neither per se admissible nor per se inadmissible” under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The decision came in Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn [LII case backgrounder], where the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that Ellen Mendelsohn was deprived of a full opportunity [opinion, PDF] to present her Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) [text] case to the jury when the trial court excluded evidence from other former Sprint employees.

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the appeals court decision, saying that the Tenth Circuit improperly concluded that the District Court applied a per se rule when deciding to exclude the evidence:
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. Applying Rule 403 to determine if evidence is prejudicial also requires a fact intensive, context-specific inquiry. Because Rules 401 and 403 do not make such evidence per se admissible or per se inadmissible, and because the inquiry required by those Rules is within the province of the District Court in the first instance, we vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case with instructions to have the District Court clarify the basis for its evidentiary ruling under the applicable Rules.
Read the Court’s unanimous opinion [text] per Justice Thomas. SCOTUSblog has more.

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