Reversing the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the U.S. Supreme Court on February 26, 2008, held that the admissibility of testimony by the Plaintiff’s former co-workers alleging discrimination by supervisors who played no role in the Plaintiff’s termination must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Sprint/United Management Company v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. _ (2008). Such evidence has been referred to as “me, too” evidence.

Ellen Mendelsohn was 51 years old when she was terminated as part of an ongoing, company-wide reduction in force by Sprint. In support of her claim, Mendelsohn tried to introduce testimony from five former Sprint employees who claimed that their supervisors had discriminated against them based on age. Sprint moved to exclude this testimony as irrelevant, because none of the other employees had the same supervisor as Mendelsohn.

The trial court ruled that Mendelsohn was limited to submitting evidence of employees who had the same supervisor as Mendelsohn and during the same time period. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had abused its discretion in excluding the testimony and then determined that the evidence was relevant and ordered a new trial.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in ruling on the relevance and subsequent admissibility of the evidence. The Court noted that the district court is entitled to wide discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence and the appellate court should only reverse the lower court upon finding an abuse of such discretion. The appellate court should have remanded the case back to the district court for clarification of its order rather than presume that it followed an improper standard. Ultimately, that is what the Supreme Court did—sent the case back to the trial court to clarify the basis for its evidentiary ruling.

Nancy Sasamoto comments that the Sprint decision does not provide employers with definitive guidance regarding “me, too” evidence. The admissibility of such evidence must be assessed on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration many factors, such as how closely related the evidence is to the plaintiff’s circumstances and theory of the case.