Expert Witness Testimony on Stereotypes Not Allowed

Plaintiff’s expert was to opine on the social framework of stereotyping, but was disallowed by judge based on general observations and unfounded speculation.

Facts:  This case (Kristen Stromberg Childers, Ph.D v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania – United States District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania – March 21st, 2016) involves the alleged gender discrimination of the defendant (Penn) when it denied the plaintiff’s (Childers) application for tenure.  Childers maintains that Penn did not advance her to the position of tenured Associate Professor because she took leave on three  occasions due to giving birth to her children as well as to work on her research.  Penn states that she was denied tenure do to her level of productivity and her visibility in her field of expertise.  Penn has moved for Summary Judgment as well as the exclusion of Childers’s discrimination expert witness, Dr. Jane Halpert.

Discussion: Dr. Halpert’s opinion in this case is on the social science of stereotyping and how they affect women in the workplace who have childcare responsibilities.   In her report, Dr. Halpert  set forth, generally, a framework of stereotypes and how they affect others once an individual becomes a member of the stereotyped group.  She then explains how the process for tenure at Penn could have created the stereotype at issue in this case.

Penn filed a Daubert motion to exclude Dr. Halpert’s testimony, arguing that the report is based on general observations and unfounded speculation of the issues in the present case.  They state that Dr. Halpert, when forming her opinion only looked at documents that were provided by plaintiff’s counsel and made assumptions about the history department at the university.  They argue that Dr. Halpert does not form an opinion on how Dr. Childers’s gender and  family status had an effect on the tenure decision.  They also state that Dr. Halpert did not rely on any methodology when coming to her conclusions, merely bookmarking pages from documents that supported Dr. Childers’s theory of gender discrimination.

The plaintiff counter argues that testimony equivalent to Dr. Halpert’s has been allowed in other cases and that she did not want to provide the jury with an empirical analysis.  Dr. Halpert, says Dr. Childers, wanted to explain to the jury what stereotyping is and how it played a role in the issues of the present case.

The court does admit that their a division of opinions in the courts as to whether expert witness testimony on stereotyping should be allowed.  Those cases that do not allow the testimony argue that it doesn’t fit the case closely enough and that studies on unconscious stereotyping are too far removed from employment decisions to be helpful to juries.  However, those cases that do allow the testimony state that juries are not knowledgeable about stereotyping and that the expert opinions will be helpful to them.

In this case, the judge opined that Dr. Halpert’s expert testimony should not be allowed as she did not review data such as information on similarly situated individuals and was not based on a sufficient record.  In addition, the court opined that Dr. Halpert’s analysis of the process of tenure is beyond her expertise.  Last, the court states that a layperson has the abilities to analyze information on stereotypes of women in the workplace.

Held:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Halpert was granted.