Court Denies Psychology Expert’s Testimony on Implicit Bias for Confusion

In this workplace discrimination case, the plaintiff claimed the defendant employer refused to promote him because of prejudice and discrimination.

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on June 8, 2022

Court Denies Psychology Expert’s Testimony on Implicit Bias for Confusion

Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Western Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Jackson v. Scripps Media, Inc.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 209462

The plaintiff retained a psychology expert to opine on racial stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. However, the defendant claimed that the expert was unqualified and used an unreliable methodology. The defendant also argued that the expert’s testimony on implicit bias was unnecessary and irrelevant.

Facts

In September 2013, the plaintiff, who described himself as African American, began working as a multimedia journalist/sports anchor and reporter for a TV station. The defendant owned the TV station in Kansas City, Missouri where the plaintiff worked. In the present case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant refused to promote him on the grounds of his color. Furthermore, the plaintiff claimed the defendant didn’t promote him in retaliation for filing charges of prejudice. The alleged prejudice violated the Missouri Human Rights Act and Section 1981 of 42 U.S. Code.

The plaintiff retained a psychology expert to provide background information on social science research on racial stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. The expert also opined on when and how the study might be applicable to the plaintiff’s circumstances.

The Plaintiff’s Psychology Expert Witness

The plaintiff’s witness was a psychology professor and a social psychologist. She studied ethnicity and prejudice. Specifically, the expert studied how race and gender impact assessments of people as well as education and job environments. The psychology expert based her opinion on her experience, research, and the facts of this situation. She reviewed the plaintiff’s discrimination charge, the present suit’s documents, and deposition records of another similar lawsuit involving the defendant. The defendant sought to exclude the expert’s evidence on the three instances. First, the defendant claimed that the expert was unqualified. Second, the defendant argued that the expert’s methodology was unreliable. Lastly, the defendant claimed that the expert’s testimony on implicit bias was unnecessary and irrelevant.

Discussion

Qualifications

The defendant argued that the expert was not qualified to give testimony on racial stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. According to the defendant, the expert had once appeared as an expert. Her testimony was limited to the supposed scholarly use of a social media article in response to the argument for a retaliatory termination arising from the posting of that document. The defendant argued that the expert had no knowledge of the factual matrix relevant to her supposed expert testimony. The court found that the expert had the requisite experience and knowledge to qualify as an expert on racial stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.

Methodology

The defendant sought to exclude the expert’s evidence because she did not rely on any details unique to this case. Furthermore, the defendant claimed that the expert didn’t base her testimony on appropriate facts or data. The plaintiff argued that the expert had specialized knowledge in the field of implicit bias. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that the expert was familiar with the particular facts of the case. The court noted that the expert’s opinion was not “so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no assistance to the jury,” referencing Synergetics, Inc. v. Hurst. The court observed that the defendant would have the right to cross-examine the methods and the facts used. The court also acknowledged that jurors could determine whether the methodology was sound and whether the testimony was adequately validated.

Relevancy

The defendant argued that the expert’s abstract opinions about implicit bias were not relevant to this case. Moreover, the expert’s abstract opinions could not aid the jury, according to the defendants. The plaintiff claimed that he wanted to use the expert’s evidence to provide “background information” on discrimination. The court noted that the issue in this case was whether the defendant knowingly discriminated against the plaintiff. The psychology expert was going to testify that people can make decisions without knowing that implicit biases resulting from prejudices influence their decisions. This opinion, the court believed, would not allow the jurors to resolve the issues in this case and was more likely to create ambiguity.

The defendant also sought to exclude the expert’s opinion on the “same actor inference” doctrine. The expert was not a lawyer, and the doctrine was based on binding case laws. The court concurred with the defendant.

Ruling

The court noted that the expert was not proposing to offer any other opinions. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion.

Key Takeaways for Experts

This case illustrates the importance of the expert’s role in explaining a particular topic to the jury. In this case, the defendant argued that the expert’s opinions about implicit bias were irrelevant to this case. The court believed that the expert’s opinion would create confusion for the jury. It is critical when forming your opinions that they are relevant to the case and that you apply the case facts to your testimony. Your opinions should also be helpful for the jury to understand the issues of the case. Testimonies that could confuse the jury will only hurt the case.

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