The justices said a federal appeals court in Denver made a mistake when it ruled on its own that workplace discrimination testimony by employees other than those filing suit should be automatically allowed at trial -- "me too" evidence.
The ruling came in the case of a Kansas woman who claimed she was wrongly terminated from a business strategy group operated by Sprint/United Management Co. as part of a reduction in force. Federal law bans age discrimination against employees 40 and over.
A federal trial court refused to allow other employees to testify about similar alleged discrimination from company supervisors but the appeals court reversed.
Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to send the case back to the trial court.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in the unanimous opinion, said the trial court must determine whether evidence of discrimination by other supervisors in an age bias case "is fact based," and the trial court's decision must depend "on many factors, including how closely related the evidence is to the plaintiff's circumstances and theory of the case." The evidence can be admitted as non-prejudicial only after "a fact-intensive, context-specific inquiry," Thomas said.
(No. 06-1221, Sprint/United Management Co. vs. Mendelsohn)