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Alabama Federal District Court Allows Expert Testimony from Forensic Psychologist

One aspect of every employment discrimination case is compensatory damages. The purpose of these damages is to reimburse an aggrieved employee for out-of-pocket losses caused by discrimination in the workplace. Compensatory damages can include medical expenses for emotional harm, such as loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, and mental anguish. In some cases, witness testimony may be necessary to prove an employee’s damages. The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama recently heard a case regarding the issue of the admissibility of expert testimony from a forensic psychologist.

Sexual Harassment Claims Against Alabama State University

The plaintiff, Sharon Robinson, filed a lawsuit against her employer, Alabama State University, for sexual harassment. In order to establish her claim for emotional distress damages, she hired a Forensic Psychologist, Kale Kirkland, Ph.D., to provide expert testimony. Dr. Kirkland submitted a report showing that Robinson suffered emotional distress as a result of the incidents she alleged in her Complaint. More specifically, Dr. Kirkland conducted a clinical interview and examination, administered a Personality Inventory test, and reviewed various other information related to her claims. He concluded that Robinson was experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety and would continue to experience psychological distress. He recommended that she see a mental health professional.

The Employer Moves to Exclude the Expert Testimony

Alabama State University challenged Robinson’s use of the expert in the case. Unlike many defendants, the challenge was not to Dr. Kirkland’s qualifications. Instead, the employer moved to exclude the testimony because his opinions did not require any particular scientific technique or specialized skill. The university argued that a jury would not be helped by the expert’s opinions, in part because he was simply offering opinions as to whether Robinson should be believed.

Federal Rule of Evidence Regarding Expert Testimony

Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence establishes the requirements for admissible expert testimony and other evidence. The Rule states as follows:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;

(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;

(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and

(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Arguments in Support of Admissibility

In this case, the Court considered the facts and found that Dr. Kirkland had in fact identified the scientific techniques that he used, which included a clinical overview, a mental status examination, and the Personality Inventory test. Based on those facts, the Court found that Dr. Kirkland’s opinions were based on solid scientific techniques. As such, the Court found that his opinions would assist the jury and should not be excluded for that reason.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!