Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn
In a unanimous opinion issued Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court held that the Tenth Circuit erred in concluding that a district court abused its discretion in disallowing testimony of “similarly situated” employees in an age discrimination case. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 2008 WL 495370 (U.S. February 26, 2008). This case serves as an important reminder that appellate courts will usually accord considerable deference to a trial court’s evidentiary rulings in employment and other cases.
Ellen Mendelsohn, an employee of Sprint/United Management Company (“Sprint”), sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, alleging disparate treatment. During trial, Mendelsohn sought to present testimony of former, non-party employees alleging discrimination by Sprint supervisors other than her own. Sprint moved to exclude the testimony on the grounds that such evidence was irrelevant and unduly prejudicial under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The District Court granted Sprint’s motion and excluded the testimony finding that the former employees were not “similarly situated” to Mendelsohn as they were managed by different supervisors. The Tenth Circuit held that the District Court abused its discretion and interpreted the order as applying a per se rule that evidence from employees of other supervisors is irrelevant in age discrimination cases. Based on its analysis of the factual evidence in the case, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the evidence was relevant and not unduly prejudicial under Rule 403, and remanded the case to the District Court for a new trial.
The Supreme Court held that the Tenth Circuit failed to accord due deference to the District Court’s findings and improperly engaged in its own analysis of the relevant factors under the Federal Rules of Evidence, rather than remanding the case to the District Court for clarification. The Supreme Court also found that the District Court’s discussion of the evidence did not give any indication that the court applied a per se rule of inadmissibility. The Supreme Court vacated the Tenth Circuit’s decision and remanded the case to the District Court to conduct the relevant inquiry under the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Click here to read the full opinion.
Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki
Yesterday, in a 7 to 2 ruling the United States Supreme Court affirmed the holding of the Second Circuit that a Form 283 “Intake Questionnaire” submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) may suffice as a “charge” of discrimination that must be submitted pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) prior to filing a lawsuit. Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 2008 WL 508018 (U.S. February 27, 2008) (Scalia, J., Thomas, J., dissenting).
The ADEA requires that “[n]o civil action . . . be commenced . . . until 60 days after a charge alleging unlawful discrimination has been filed with the EEOC.” 29 U.S.C. § 626(d), but does not define the term “charge.” In Holowecki, employees over the age of 40 who were or had been employed as couriers by Federal Express Corporation (“FedEx”) filed an action against FedEx alleging that two programs which tied couriers’ compensation and continued employment to certain performance benchmarks violated the ADEA. The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed the action as to one of the employees on the ground that the employee had not filed a “charge” with the EEOC at least 60 days before filing the lawsuit. The Second Circuit reversed this finding and remanded. The Supreme Court granted certiorari and affirmed the finding that the employee satisfied the requirements of the ADEA by filing a Form 283 “Intake Questionnaire” and an accompanying affidavit supporting her contention that the FedEx programs discriminate against older couriers in violation of the ADEA.
In reaching this conclusion, the Supreme Court looked to the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) to clarify the meaning of “charge” under the ADEA. The Court explained that under Section 1626.8(b) of the CFR “a charge is ‘sufficient’ if it meets the requirements of §1626.6-i.e., if it is ‘in writing and . . . name[s] the prospective respondent and . . . generally allege[s] the discriminatory act(s).'” (alterations in original) (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 1626.3). The Court also considered the EEOC’s position that the filing of a charge, “taken as a whole, should be construed as a request by the employee for the EEOC to take whatever action is necessary to vindicate her rights.” The Court concluded that the employee’s “Intake Questionnaire” along with her affidavit, which asked the EEOC to “force [FedEx] to end [its] age discrimination plan,” constituted a “charge” under the ADEA.
Click here to read the full opinion.
Keesal, Young & Logan Employment Group