In the recent U.S. Supreme Court case of Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, the Court left the door open for plaintiffs in employment cases to introduce damaging evidence that other employees were also harassed or discriminated against. In Sprint, 51 year-old employee Ellen Mendelsohn brought an age-discrimination suit against the company after she was laid off in an ongoing company-wide reduction in force. Mendelsohn wanted to introduce testimony of other former Sprint employees who claimed that their supervisors had discriminated against them too because of their age (“me too” evidence). None of these other witnesses worked in the same department with Mendelsohn, none of them ever worked under any of Mendelsohn’s supervisors and none of them had ever brought a lawsuit alleging age discrimination. Rather than ruling that “me too” evidence either is or is not admissible, the Court held that there is no bright line rule either permitting or excluding such evidence, but that such evidence must be assessed on a case-bycase basis. In other words, each court will be allowed to determine whether such evidence will or will not be allowed in a particular case and the parties will have little or no indication of which way the court will rule before the case actually goes to trial.
How “Me Too” Evidence Impacts Employers
What this means for employers is that “me too” evidence may be admissible against the company in a harassment or discrimination suit. Thus, a plaintiff in a discrimination case may attempt to assemble a large group of disgruntled employees to come to trial and testify that they were also discriminated against, making it much easier for the plaintiff to prove his/her own case by inference. And, since the admissibility of “me too” evidence will be determined on a case-by-case basis, it may be harder for employers to get cases dismissed at an early stage.
How Employers Can Protect Themselves
The prudent employer will try to avoid harassment/discrimination claims in the first place by establishing strong anti-harassment/discrimination policies, providing appropriate supervisor training on those policies and taking every report of harassment/discrimination seriously. In the event a disgruntled employee testifies that he/she was the subject of harassment or discrimination, the employer may be able to diffuse such testimony by demonstrating that the employee never complained while they were employed or that the company took immediate and effective action upon receiving a complaint.