US - Supreme Court reverses
"me too" evidence decision.
Management v. Mendelsohn (US Supreme Court 02/26/2008)
respondent Mendelsohn's age discrimination case, petitioner
Sprint moved in limine to exclude the testimony of former
employees alleging discrimination by supervisors who had no
role in the employment decision Mendelsohn challenged, on the
ground that such evidence was irrelevant to the case's central
issue, see Fed. Rules Evid. 401, 402, and unduly prejudicial,
see Rule 403. Granting the motion, the District Court excluded
evidence of discrimination against those not "similarly
situated" to Mendelsohn. The Tenth Circuit treated that
order as applying a per se rule that evidence from
employees of other supervisors is irrelevant in age
discrimination cases, concluded that the District Court abused
its discretion by relying on the Circuit's Aramburu
case, determined that the evidence was relevant and not unduly
prejudicial, and remanded for a new trial.
The Tenth Circuit erred in concluding that the District Court
applied a per se rule and thus improperly engaged in its own
analysis of the relevant factors under Rules 401 and 403,
rather than remanding the case for the District Court to
clarify its ruling.
(a) In deference to a
district court's familiarity with a case's details and its
greater experience in evidentiary matters, courts of appeals
uphold Rule 403 rulings unless the district court has abused
its discretion. Here, the Tenth Circuit did not accord due
deference to the District Court. The District Court's
two-sentence discussion of the evidence neither cited nor gave
any other indication that the decision relied on Aramburu
or suggested that the court applied a per se rule of
inadmissibility. Neither party's submissions to the District
Court suggested that Aramburu was controlling. That
court's use of the same "similarly situated" phrase
that Aramburu used cannot be presumed to indicate
adoption of Aramburu's analysis, for the District Court
was addressing a very different kind of evidence here. And the
nature of Sprint's argument was not that the particular
evidence was never admissible, but only that such evidence
lacked sufficient probative value in this case to be relevant
or outweigh prejudice and delay.
(b) Because of the Tenth
Circuit's error, it went on to assess the relevance of the
evidence itself and conduct its own balancing of probative
value and potential prejudicial effect when it should have
allowed the District Court to make these determinations in the
first instance, explicitly and on the record.
F. 3d 1223, vacated and remanded.
THOMAS, J., delivered the
opinion for a unanimous Court.