A Matter of Context: Social Framework Evidence in Employment Discrimination Class Actions
In litigation disputes over the certification of employment discrimination class actions, social scientists have come to play a central, yet controversial, role. Organizational behavioralists and social psychologists regularly testify for the plaintiffs, offering what is commonly referred to as social framework testimony. These experts explain the general social science research on the operation of stereotyping and bias in decision making and examine the challenged workplace to identify those policies and practices that research has shown will tend to increase and those that will tend to limit the likely impact of these factors. Defendants fight hard against the admission of social framework experts, and some courts have agreed that the testimony should not be allowed. Because of the importance of this testimony to ferreting out large-scale discrimination in the workplace, the stakes in the debate over its admissibility are considerable. This Essay puts the debate over social framework expert testimony in context, explaining what the testimony is and the role it has played in employment discrimination litigation, with a particular focus on the way the testimony has been offered in class action suits like Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. It explains how the normal rules of evidence law should apply to social framework expert testimony and demonstrates that under the flexible and permissive standards of the Federal Rules of Evidence, framework testimony offered by a qualified expert should be admissible in many employment class actions. Arguments put forward recently that this kind of evidence should always be excluded is driven as much by a particular view of employment discrimination law as by the governing evidentiary rules. Ultimately, the arguments for blanket exclusion of social framework testimony in these cases can best be understood as part of a political debate and a litigation strategy.