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Keeping Out Irrelevant Harmful Evidence in Order to Enhance Your New Jersey Hostile Work Environment Case

Succeeding in any kind of civil lawsuit, including a discrimination and/or harassment action, requires a careful understanding of the law and in-depth knowledge of the procedural rules. Often times, though, the difference between success and failure is the factual evidence in your case. Whether it is getting your persuasive evidence in or keeping your opponents’ damaging evidence out, winning these evidentiary battles can frequently be the key to a favorable outcome and are just one more (of the many) reasons why you need to have a skilled New Jersey employment attorney advocating for you.

A recent case involving a sheriff’s department employee was an example of exactly this. J.I. had diabetes, having been diagnosed with Type I at the age of six. Twelve years into his employment, J.I. underwent a pancreas transplant due to his diabetes. After that procedure, J.I. allegedly endured a long string of taunts and insults. The disparaging nicknames included “Half-Dead,” “Mr. Magoo,” “Stevie Wonder,” “Jerry’s Kids,” “Eye Lab,” and “Walking Dead,” according to the employee. All of these taunts about his condition created a hostile work environment, so the employee sued in 2015.

At the trial, the county wanted to introduce evidence about a disciplinary case against J.I. and his partner, in which J.I. was suspended for misconduct and for untruthfulness. The county wanted to argue that J.I.’s displeasure about that internal affairs investigation was the real reason he sued. The employee, however, successfully persuaded the judge that the evidence would do more to create unfair prejudice than it would shine a light on deciding an issue that was before the jury.

The jury concluded that the employee had suffered impermissible harassment based on his disability and awarded him $640,000 in emotional distress damages and $240,000 in punitive damages. The county appealed the verdict, contending the internal affairs investigation and punishment evidence should have been admitted.

Weighing prejudice versus relevance favored the employee

That argument can only succeed, however, if the employee’s motives for suing were an issue in dispute in the actual case. In J.I.’s case, the issues in dispute centered on whether or not the conduct that he endured amounted to impermissible harassment under New Jersey law. Evidence related to the employee’s reasons for filing his lawsuit would do nothing to prove or disprove that issue. It would, however, unfairly prejudice the jury regarding the employee’s honesty/dishonesty.

The appeals court also concluded that, despite the county’s arguments to the contrary, the employee was allowed to use other employees’ harassment and discrimination actions in his lawsuit. J.I. used those other cases specifically for the purpose of rebutting arguments by the county that its anti-harassment policies were effective. For that reason, the evidence was allowable.

Evidence for your case-in-chief… rebuttal evidence… exclusion of inadmissible opposition evidence. All of these things are part of the employment litigation process, and any of them can be the key to success… or to failure. To be sure you give your disability discrimination or harassment case the best possible chance of a positive result, retain the skilled New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how our knowledgeable attorneys can assist you in getting the positive result you deserve.

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