Even though Title VII prohibits an employer from taking adverse action against someone for filing a employment discrimination case in good faith, apparently the rule does not extend to juries, who may consider it as evidence of “motive, intent, preparation or plan” under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) — at least, in the Eighth Circuit.
In Batiste-Davis v. Lincare, No. 06-4206 (8th Cir. May 19, 2008), the employee tried and lost a race discrimination case in Arkansas. On appeal, she argued that the district court judge erred in admitting evidence of a Title VII and ADA discrimination case she filed six years earlier against another employer. The judge admitted proof of the lawsuit as evidence of “prior acts” under Rule 404(b), “to show Davis’s motive in filing this case. Lincare adds that evidence of the prior suit has a bearing on Davis’s credibility, state of mind with respect to the current litigation, and pattern or plan of asserting false claims.” The court acknowledged, though, that there was no evidence that the earlier suit had been fraudulently filed.
The panel affirms the judgment. The panel noted that while several circuits bar the admissibility of prior lawsuits, if not fraudulently filed, the Eighth Circuit allows such evidence under a four-prong balancing test (e.g., if “prior suit was relevant, similar, and probably close enough in time,” plus Fed. R. Evid. 403 undue prejudice). Here, the panel recognizes that the district court erred when it admitted the evidence: “The probative value of the lawsuit was minimal as Lincare presented evidence of only one suit, which was six years old. Because the probative value was substantially outweighed by its unfair prejudice, the district court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of Davis’s prior lawsuit.” On the other hand, the judgment was affirmed on the ground that the evidence was used primarily for impeachment purposes.