Human Resource Expert Witness Not Qualified to Testify in Discrimination Case

Summary: A Human Resources Expert Witness was not qualified to testify in a race discrimination case because he lacked expertise beyond that of a layperson.

Facts: In MIFAB Inc., v. Illinois Human Rights Commission and Clint Towers, First District Appellate Court of Illinois, (2020 IL App (1st) 181098, there was a question as to wether a former supervisor could testify as a Human Resource Expert Witness.

Clint Towers was hired as a warehouse worker for MIFAB, Inc. a plumbing supply business.  He worked overtime, but his hours began to decrease in the fall of 2006.  He was fired in November, 2006.

Towers filed a claim of race and national origin discrimination against MIFAB with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR).  In his claim, he maintained that this compensation was less than his Hispanic co-workers.  He also claimed that was denied overtime, and his termination was unlawful.

Disputes arose regarding discovery, which lasted several years.  Orders were made to comply with discovery requests, and a second amended complaint was filed.  Eventually a default was filed against MIFAB.

During the damages hearing, MIFAB filed its motion to reconsider the default.  The commission denied the motion, and the case moved to the damages stage.

During the damages hearing, Towers testified that he received praise for his work at MIFAB.  His compensation was $14 per hours, and $21 for overtime. In mid-August 2006, shortly before he was fired, his supervisor informed them that the company would be reducing overtime.  After he was fired, he offered to come back to work for MIFAB for $9 an hour.  He refused.

When Towers was fired, he looked for another job the following week through in person meetings, the Internet, referrals, and through the newspaper. He claimed applied for approximately 250 positions. Documentation evidencing the positions for which he applied was submitted.  These positions included warehouse positions, among other positions. He stopped looking for jobs in August 2011.  He received unemployment compensation for almost three years.

During his testimony, Towers claimed that his firing from MIFAB changed his life.  He reported feelings of worthlessness.  He claimed he was made to feel small, even though he did everything that was asked of him, and that he was told he was doing an excellent job.  He testified his health suffered, with a loss of sleep and subsequent family problems.  His savings were lost, and accumulated so much debt that he was unable to purchase a home.  Eventually he sought psychiatric help and was informed from the doctor that he was suffering from depression.

Towers said that he did not accept the position MIFAB offered after he was terminated because his hourly compensation would have been lower, he was only given one month to accept. Also, the place of employment would have been a long distance from his home.

MIFAB offered a former supervisor of Towers as a Human Resources Expert Witness.  This supervisor testified that he observed Towers and all customer service, inventory, purchasing, warehouse employees.  Towers’ attorney objected to the introduction of the proposed Human Resources Expert Witness.  They argued that he was not a Human Resources (HR) professional that he lacked the requisite knowledge and experience above an average lay person to testify whether Towers was qualified to work in other positions.

Discussion: Under the Illinois Rule 702 regarding Expert Witness Testimony, if a scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.  Here, Towers argued that foundation  had  not been laid that MIFAB’s supervisor was an HR expert and that this proposed expert witness was not qualified to testify regarding the fired employee’s qualifications to work at other job.

Conclusion: The court agreed, and did not allow MIFAB’s former supervisor to testify as an expert witness.