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Court decides “me-too” case

The Supreme Court on Tuesday — in the only decision of the day – overturned a federal appeals court ruling on how courts are to treat “me too” evidence — workplace discrimination testimony by workers other than the one raising a job bias claim.  In a unanimous decision, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court found the Tenth Circuit Court in error in deciding on its own, without remanding to a trial judge, that such evidence is admissible.

Federal rules, the Court said, “do not make such evidence per se admissible or per se inadmissible.”  It is up to District Courts, in trying job bias cases (here, an Age Discrimination in Employment Act case), to sort out the fact-intensive nature of such evidence.  “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,” the opinion said.

The Tenth Circuit was faulted by the Court, Justice Thomas wrote, because it misread a trial judge’s ruling as if it had applied a per se rule against admission of “me too” testimony.  The Circuit Court had gone on to conclude, on its own, that that kind of testimony is relevant and not unduly prejudicial.

The case (Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 06-1221) involved an appeal by a business development subsidiary of Sprint Nextel Corp., arguing that the appeals courts are split on the admission of “me too” testimony.  The appeal argued that the Tenth Circuit stood alone in finding such evidence admissible.