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Jackson v. Scripps Media, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 5, 2019

DEMETRICE JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SCRIPPS MEDIA, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION (1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO EXCLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY, (2) GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO EXCLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY, (3) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND (4) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending are Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Testimony and Opinions of Defendant's Expert Susan Willower (Doc. #106), Defendant's Motion to Exclude Testimony and Opinions of Dr. Monica Biernat (Doc. #109), Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #111), and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint (Doc. #133). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion to exclude expert testimony is granted in part and denied in part, Defendant's motion to exclude expert testimony is granted, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint is granted in part and denied in part.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In September 2013, Plaintiff Demetrice Jackson began working as a sports anchor/multi-media journalist and reporter for KSHB-TV 41, a television station in Kansas City, Missouri. The station is owned by Defendant Scripps Media, Inc. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff, who identifies as African-American, alleges he was denied promotions based on his race and in retaliation for filing of charge of discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (the “MHRA”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

         II. MOTIONS TO EXCLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY

         A. Standard

         Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the admission of expert testimony:

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.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. The district court must make a “preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology can be applied to the facts in issue.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592-93 (1993). The Court uses a three-part test when determining the admissibility of expert testimony:

First, evidence based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge must be useful to the finder of fact in deciding the ultimate issue of fact. This is the basic rule of relevancy. Second, the proposed witness must be qualified to assist the finder of fact. Third, the proposed evidence must be reliable or trustworthy in an evidentiary sense, so that, if the finder of fact accepts it as true, it provides the assistance the finder of fact requires.

Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 270 F.3d 681, 686 (8th Cir. 2001) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “Courts should resolve doubts regarding usefulness of an expert's testimony in favor of admissibility.” Marmo v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., 457 F.3d 748, 758 (8th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         B. Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony

         Defendant's expert, Susan Willower, proposes to offer opinions on television news industry standards and practices. Doc. #107-1. According to her report, Willower will testify at trial to the following opinions:

• “Based on my experience, it would be highly unusual and not consistent with industry practice for a News Director to promise any applicant a promotion, let alone that someone hired into the lowest position in a department would jump over someone else to the highest position in the department.”
• “Mr. Jackson should not have been surprised that Mr. Boal was promoted to Sports Director after Mr. Boal told him he was going to talk to Ms. Hofmann about the position. In fact, when Mr. Jackson was asked if he had complained about Mr. Boal receiving the Sports Director position Jackson acknowledged that…I didn't push it in that regard.”
• “Nothing indicates that race was a factor in the selection process.”
• “Utilization of [the application and hiring process] would not be consistent if Ms. Hofmann was basing her decision on race. If that were the case, she could have just interviewed the candidates herself and made the decision unilaterally.” • “I found no evidence that Ms. Hofmann treated the applicants differently or applied different definitions of merit to them in the selection process.”
• “There was no evidence provided to substantiate that race bias played a role in the failure to promote Mr. Jackson.”
• “There was no basis in the materials reviewed to confirm [Hofmann made a statement about “passing over the old white guy” other than the allegation of Mr. Jackson. Even if Ms. Hofmann made this statement, it is very vague and does not directly indicate that she considered Mr. Jackson's race when she made the decision to promote Mr. Boal.”

         Doc. #107-1, at 3-11. Plaintiff moves to exclude Willower's testimony because (1) she is not qualified; (2) her testimony is irrelevant; (3) her testimony invades the province of the jury; and (4) her testimony provides speculative conclusions and credibility assessments. Doc. #106.

         (1) Qualifications

         It is well-established that an expert's specialized knowledge based on experience in the field at issue suffices to show the expert is qualified to testify. Fed.R.Evid. 702. Willower is a consultant in human resources (“HR”) with thirty-four years of HR experience. Doc. #107-1, at 2.[2] She has experience relevant to the TV news industry as the former Vice President of HR for Raycom Media and Regional Vice President of HR for Comcast. Id. Now, Willower has her own HR consulting company. Id.

         Plaintiff argues Willower is not qualified to testify about TV news industry standards and practices. Doc. #107, at 1-4. In support, Plaintiff cites the “Top Skills” identified in Willower's LinkedIn profile. Id. Defendant maintains “Willower's experience is highly relevant to explore the industry standards and policies of the highly specialized TV news industry at issue in this lawsuit.” Doc. #119, at 6.

         The Court disagrees with Plaintiff's argument. The information Willower chooses to include in her LinkedIn profile is irrelevant in determining whether she is qualified to testify as an expert. Plaintiff's argument ignores Willower's extensive TV news industry experience detailed in her report. Plaintiff makes no further attempt to show Willower lacks qualifications. Based upon the record, the Court finds Willower possesses the requisite experience and knowledge to qualify as an expert on TV news industry standards and practices. Accordingly, Plaintiff's request to exclude Willower's expert testimony based on her qualifications is denied.

         (2) Relevance and Invading the ...


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