District Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reviewed an expert’s qualification, reliability, and “fit” to determine if the expert witness can be admitted in a case. The judge was presented with motions to exclude the expert testimony of a human resources expert witness in an employment discrimination case. The judge’s analysis focused on the proof required of a methodology in the ranking of candidates for an executive position.
Plaintiff alleged discrimination stemming from Defendant manufacturers’ failure to promote her to Global Vice President of Human Resources (“GHRVP”) and from its decision to terminate her employment.
Plaintiff, a human resources professional, was the Director of Human Resources for Global Operations and reported directly to the Executive Vice President of Global Operations (“EVPGO”). According to Plaintiff, EVPGO sexually harassed her, and she complained. After this, Plaintiff contended that EVPGO continued to sexually harass her. After refusing his advances, she alleged that EVPGO demoted her by taking away responsibilities and changing her title from HR Director for Global Operations to HR Director for North America Operations. As a result, Plaintiff no longer reported directly to EVPGO. She asserted that EVPGO demoted her because she had refused his advances.
Defendants searched for a new Global HR Vice President, and contended they were seeking an outside candidate with experience in international health care and emerging markets. Plaintiff said Defendants didn’t rule out hiring an internal candidate for the position and that the position description provided to Defendants by their search firm didn’t state that type of experience.
Defendants hired an outside candidate and asserted that the process used to rank the candidates was well established in the Human Resources field. The reliability and legitimacy of this process was the subject of Plaintiff’s Motion to Exclude the Testimony of the human resources expert.
Plaintiff received a very low score in GHRVP’s ranking process. According to her, this demonstrated that Plaintiff had “insufficiently strong competencies to be offered positions in the restructured Human Resources organization going forward.” Plaintiff was told she was fired. Plaintiff claims it was because she complained about sexual harassment.
The judge explained in his opinion on the motions that courts must address a “trilogy of restrictions” before permitting the admission of expert testimony: qualification, reliability and fit, and that the party offering the expert must prove each of these requirements by a preponderance of the evidence.
To qualify as an expert, the Third Circuit held that Rule 702 requires the witness to have “‘specialized knowledge’ regarding the area of testimony,” and has instructed courts to interpret the qualification requirement “liberally” and not to insist on a certain kind of degree or background when evaluating the qualifications of an expert. Moreover, the liberal policy of admissibility extends to the substantive as well as the formal qualifications of experts, and a court may not exclude testimony because it doesn’t feel that the proposed expert is the best qualified or because he or she doesn’t have the specialization that the court considers most appropriate.
The reliability requirement of Daubert “means that the expert’s opinion must be based on the ‘methods and procedures of science’ rather than on ‘subjective belief or unsupported speculation;’ the expert must have ‘good grounds’ for his or her belief.” In Kumho Tire, the Supreme Court held that the Daubert test of reliability is “flexible” and that “the law grants a district court the same broad latitude when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect to its ultimate reliability determination.” In deciding this requirement, courts look at these factors where appropriate:
(1) whether a method consists of a testable hypothesis;
(2) whether the method has been subject to peer review;
(3) the known or potential rate of error;
(4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique’s operation;
(5) whether the method is generally accepted;
(6) the relationship of the technique to methods which have been established to be reliable;
(7) the qualifications of the expert witness testifying based on the methodology; and
(8) the non-judicial uses to which the method has been put.
These factors are neither exhaustive nor applicable in every case.
For expert testimony to meet the “fit” requirement, the judge said it must “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue,” Rule 702 says. “This condition goes primarily to relevance. ‘Fit’ is not always obvious, and scientific validity for one purpose is not necessarily scientific validity for other, unrelated purposes.”
Defendant’s proposed human resources expert provided opinions regarding the ranking process used in determining that Plaintiff shouldn’t be retained in the restructured Human Resources department. The human resources expert opined that Defendant took the appropriate and necessary steps to define the business needs of the HR Department and to establish criteria “consistent with her view of the challenges facing the business.” The human resources expert also said that Defendant designed a structure consistent with research in Human Resources management. Finally, he testified Defendant’s conduct in evaluating the performance and competencies of the current HR employees was also consistent with that same research, and concluded that they used a process consistent with research-based models for value based human resource management.
Plaintiff didn’t challenge the human resources expert’s qualifications, but argued that his opinions were irrelevant and wouldn’t assist the trier of fact—that his opinions didn’t “fit” the facts of this case, and that his report set forth no methodology and was thus unreliable.
As to fit, the proposed testimony of human resources expert was relevant to a determination of defendants’ motivation in terminating plaintiff’s employment—an issue which is squarely in dispute in this case—and it would assist the trier of fact in deciding between plaintiff’s and defendants’ competing theories about the validity of the reorganization process utilized by defendants.
With respect to reliability, contrary to plaintiff’s assertion, human resources expert did apply a particular methodology in rendering his opinions. Rather than relying merely on his “own intuition,” the expert’s opinions were based on his review of the relevant parts of the record, his professional background and experience, and his review of various research materials in the field of human resources management—some of which he himself authored. Thus, the Court concluded that human resources expert’s opinions rested upon “good grounds,” and that Defendant presented proof of a valid methodology based on more than just the ipse dixit of the expert.
The fact that the expert acknowledged in his deposition that the process Defendant used could have been used with retaliatory bias didn’t render his opinions unreliable or unhelpful to the trier of fact. Plaintiff may bring this out on cross-examination, the Judge said, and the trier of fact can then decide whether to credit defendants’ version of the facts regarding the motivation behind the termination.
The judge held that human resources expert’s testimony is relevant, it will assist the trier of fact in weighing Plaintiff’s and Defendant’s competing explanations for Plaintiff’s termination, and his opinions are reliable.
Plaintiff’s motion to exclude the defendant expert’s testimony was denied.