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Supreme Court Holds That There Is No Absolute Rule As To When Plaintiffs Can Use "Me-Too" Evidence Against Employers In Court

Volume 7, Issue 2
March 12, 2008

On February 26, 2008, the United States Supreme Court addressed the admissibility of "me-too" evidence, a shorthand reference to testimony of other employees regarding alleged discriminationthey experienced as opposed to what the actual plaintiff allegedly experienced. In Sprint/United Management, Co. v. Mendelsohn, the Court explained that this type of evidence is never automatically included or excluded from a court case. Rather, the Court held that each trial court must make a case-by-case analysis of the evidence, its relevance to the plaintiff's claims, and the potential for any prejudicial effect on a jury. In the Sprint case, Ellen Mendelsohn was employed in the Business Development Strategy Group of Sprint/United Management Company ("Sprint"). After Sprint terminated her employment pursuant to a company-wide reduction in force, Mendelsohn sued for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). At trial, Mendelsohn sought to introduce testimony of five Sprint employees who also believed that they suffered age discrimination from their supervisors at Sprint ("me-too" evidence). None of the five employees even worked in Mendelsohn's department. Moreover, none of the employees could provide testimony concerning the allegedly discriminatory acts or remarks made by supervisors in Mendelsohn's chain of command. Before Mendelsohn's age discrimination trial started, Sprint asked the court to bar Mendelsohn from introducing such "me-too" evidence, arguing such testimony is relevant only from employees who were similarly situated to Mendelsohn - i.e., those who worked in the same department and had the same supervisors. The trial court agreed, and the jury ultimately ruled in favor of Sprint. Mendelsohn challenged the trial court's exclusion of the "me-too" evidence before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that such testimony was relevant and should have been admitted at trial. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court to better explain its reasoning for excluding the evidence. The Court explained that a trial court could not adopt a rule automatically barring or admitting me-too evidence. This is an important and potentially harmful case for employers because the Supreme Court confirmed that no hard and fast rule exits for the use of "me-too" evidence, even when it concerns actions of supervisors from a different department who had no involvement in the discrimination complained of by the actual plaintiff in a case. Thus, a jury could possibly hear and be influenced by such evidence. It demonstrates that problematic behavior by supervisors and prior discrimination claims can be "the gifts that keep on giving." The case also reinforces the need for supervisor training, early intervention in dealing with improper employee behavior, and prompt and well documented investigations into discrimination allegations. The full text of the Supreme Court's opinion can be found at: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=06-1221.

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