Standards for Evidence, Eeoc Charges Left to Lower Courts

By Schoeff, Mark, Jr. | Workforce Management, March 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

Standards for Evidence, Eeoc Charges Left to Lower Courts


Schoeff, Mark, Jr., Workforce Management


SUPREME COURT

Considering that the Supreme Court's two most recent appointments are conservatives-Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr.-the corporate community was hoping for a consistently sympathetic bench.

What it got instead is one that adheres closely to what a law says. Sometimes that produces a controversial decision that bolsters business-such as a pay discrimination opinion last year that narrowly interpreted the statute of limitations and thus restricts pay cases.

But just as often, the court avoids drawing bright-line distinctions or setting standards because doing so would read too much into the law. On consecutive days in late February, such an approach produced rulings that could be seen as victories for employees.

In a case involving age discrimination against a Sprint worker who lost her job in a companywide downsizing, the court did not indicate whether evidence she wanted to present from co-workers was admissible. A district court did not allow Ellen Mendelsohn's colleagues to testify because they reported to a different supervisor than she did.

The Supreme Court overturned an appeals court that said the evidence should be allowed and sent the case back to the trial court for a better explanation of why it was excluded.

Although that was the result Sprint sought, the high court's ruling left the door open for so-called "me too" evidence to be used in some circumstances if it is deemed relevant by a trial court.

Such testimony 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," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Businesses oppose me-too testimony, arguing it is irrelevant and can make litigation more prolonged and costly by creating trials-within-trials on the veracity of each discrimination claim. …

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