EEOC Consent Decree Excluded From Evidence

In Roberts v. Tim Dahle Imports, Inc., 2022 WL 1773036 (D.Utah June 1, 2022), an employment discrimination case, the court granted defendant’s motion in limine to exclude evidence in the form of an EEOC Consent Decree.

From the decision:

Plaintiff offers the 2009 consent decree for a proper purpose to prove intent and motive to discriminate as well as Defendant’s knowledge of its duties to prevent harassment and retaliation. But the relevance of the evidence in proving those claims is limited and is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice against Defendant. Thus, the court determines that the 2009 consent decree is not admissible.

The relevance of past-discrimination evidence is determined by finding a nexus between it and the plaintiff’s circumstances.” Gaige v. SAIA Motor Freight Line, LLC, 672 F. App’x 787, 790 (10th Cir. 2016). Whether there is a logical nexus depends on the factual circumstances and arguments in each case. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 387, 128 S.Ct. 1140, 170 L.Ed.2d 1 (2008). Some relevant factors include “i) proximity in time; ii) the decision-makers involved; and iii) similar treatment of the witness and plaintiff.” Id. However, it is improper for courts to apply per se rules of exclusion. Id.

Plaintiff contends that the consent decree is relevant to establish motive and intent of Defendant to discriminate. While proving motive and intent are proper purposes, See FED. R. EVID. 404(b)(2), the evidence is not relevant to that claim. Plaintiff’s allegations occurred six years after the alleged sexual harassment that was the subject of the consent decree. And none of the employees involved in the sexual harassment claim remained employed with Defendant by the time Plaintiff was hired.

Furthermore, it is unclear how a consent decree regarding a claim of sexual harassment is probative of Defendant’s motive and intent to discriminate on the basis of disability. For evidence of prior discrimination to be probative to a defendant’s motive or intent in a later discrimination claim, “there must be some reason to believe that his motivation or intention in the acts in question was similar to his motivation or intention on the prior occasion.” Coles v. Perry, 217 F.R.D. 1, 9 n.5 (D.D.C. 2003). To be probative to motive and intent, prior discrimination must be of the same character or type as the discrimination alleged. Id. Sexual harassment and disability discrimination are sufficiently distinct in character and type, the employees accused of harassment in this case are not the same persons alleged in the prior case, and there are no other reasons to think that the discrimination is sufficiently of the same character as the prior case to be relevant towards motive and intent.

[Cleaned up.]

The court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that the Consent Decree was relevant to plaintiff’s request for punitive damages (which are available where plaintiff demonstrates that the employer discriminated “in the face of a perceived risk that its actions will violate federal law”), noting that while the consent decree was “expressly limited to duties to prevent sexual harassment and retaliation for actions taken in opposition to Title VII violations, plaintiff here alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), not Title VII.

The court reasoned that “while the ADA also imposes duties on employers to prevent harassment and retaliation, the consent decree is of limited value in proving knowledge of Defendant’s ADA duties.”

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