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Psychology Expert’s Testimony on Workplace Sexual Harassment Partially Excluded

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant for workplace sexual harassment. They retained a psychology expert to opine on the procedures for the prevention of sexual harassment.

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on April 25, 2022

Psychology Expert’s Testimony on Workplace Sexual Harassment Partially Excluded

Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case NameVan v. Ford Motor Co.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143071

The expert also opined on the prevalent nature of sexual harassment in the workplace. The defendant argued the expert did not base her opinions on a reliable methodology.

Facts

In this class action suit, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant subjected them to a hostile work environment. The plaintiffs claimed the environment of the defendant’s factories was pervasively sexual to the point of being abusive and intimidating. The plaintiffs hired a psychology expert witness to testify about the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment at the defendant’s factories. The expert also opined on the proper procedures for prevention and redressal of the same. Additionally, the psychology expert testified on whether the defendant had followed said procedures. However, the defendant challenged the psychology expert witness’s testimony.

The Plaintiffs’ Psychology Expert Witness

The psychology expert witness was an expert in the field of sexual harassment, specializing in organizational and psychological evaluation. She served as a professor emeritus of psychology. Additionally, the expert was a distinguished senior scholar in the psychology department at different university. The expert witness has written more than one hundred chapters, monographs, and scholarly articles. She also provided consultation services to plaintiff and defense attorneys in various types of sex discrimination and sexual assault litigation. She has consulting experience with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, and other professional groups. The expert was the social science consultant to Professor Anita Hill’s legal team during U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.

The psychology expert has served extensively in behavioral science consultancy and as an expert witness. She was the expert of the government in U.S. v. Lanier, the U.S. Supreme Court case. She provided assistance to the American Psychological Association in preparing its amicus brief in Harris v. Forklift. The expert also helped prepare the National Employment Lawyers’ Association brief in Burlington Industries.

Discussion

The court considered whether the expert employed the “social framework” methodology she purports to have used in reaching her opinions. The court noted that most scholars believed the methodology of “social framework” was used to form general statements using relations among variables of an undertaken social scientific research project. Additionally, the court noted that the plaintiffs failed to identify evidence that supported the expert’s application of the methodology. The court believed the plaintiffs failed to show that the expert’s opinion on the prevalent nature of sexual harassment at the factories was reliable. Furthermore, the court noted that “there [wa]s simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered,” citing Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner. The plaintiffs had not explained the process by which the expert had reached her conclusions about the same.

The court observed that the expert’s opinion about the exposure of each class member to sexual harassment was not based on reliable methodology. The expert’s opinion was based only on the evidence of her affidavit. The court noted that the expert’s testimony was irrelevant to the extent that it was cited to support factual assertions. The assertions could have been established without the help of expert testimony. The court also believed that her testimony to explain the defendant’s corporate state of mind was not helpful for the trier of fact. It was not clear to the court the importance of expert knowledge in order to determine the conduct of the defendant and defendant’s employees and whether they should have had knowledge of certain conditions and/or actions.

Ruling

The court granted the defendant’s motion to exclude the psychology expert’s testimony on the prevalence of sexual harassment at the defendant’s factories. However, the court allowed the psychology expert to offer expert testimony about the proper procedures that should be followed to prevent and redress sexual harassment. The court also allowed the expert to opine about the extent to which the defendant’s actions or lack thereof were in consonance with the proper procedures.

Key Takeaways for Experts

It’s critical to use a reliable methodology when reaching your expert conclusions. In this case, the expert’s testimony on the class members’ sexual harassment was based on the evidence of her affidavit. Moreover, the court believed the expert’s testimony was irrelevant because it was cited to support factual assertions. Expert witnesses should clarify why their expert opinion is necessary and how they can help the jury understand the case better. It’s important that your testimony employs a reliable methodology and that your expert knowledge supports the opinion you form.

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