A criminal records expert witness has been dismissed from an Equal Employment Opportunity Claim (EEOC) lawsuit for sub-standard research that cherry-picked data to support the plaintiff’s case. The Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal last week, and reaffirmed the high methodological standards that expert witnesses are held to.
Expert Witness Supports EEOC Claim
Litigation in EEOC v FreemanEE due to the defendant’s regular practice of conducting criminal background checks for all job applicants, and dismissing applicants with prohibited criminal histories including violent felonies. In 2008, an applicant who was denied a position with Freeman filed a charge of discrimination alleging that the policy of criminal background disproportionally affected black applicants in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
As the case prepared for trial, the EEOC filed an expert witness report from Kevin Murphy, an industrial / organization psychologist, that purported to demonstrate that Freeman’s criminal record checks discriminated against black applicants. After a series of supplemental reports from Murphy, Freeman filed a request to have the expert reports dismissed for presenting unreliable data and not adding value to the litigation. Upon review of the Murphy reports, the trial court agreed with the defendant and rejected the EEOC’s expert.
Fourth Circuit Rejects EEOC Expert Witness on Appeal
The EEOC appealed the lower court’s decision to dismiss its expert witness to the 4th Circuit, but the appeals court was similarly unconvinced by Murphy’s efforts. First, the Court took issue with Murphy’s decision to exclude hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants that Freeman reported conducting criminal background checks on. Murphy took a limited sample of applicants to Freeman’s business, and the Court felt that his expert witness report was therefore not representative of the effect criminal record checks had on everyone who applied for a job during the period at issue. By limiting his sample, the Court found that Murphy had selected data that would support the EEOC’s case rather than paint an accurate picture of the effect of criminal record checks.
Going further, the Court found that Murphy’s expert witness report featured a number of “mind-boggling” errors and unexplained discrepancies in interpreting the criminal record check database that he presented. From miscoded applicants, to incorrect racial designations, to double-counted records, to missing data throughout the report, Murphy’s efforts were littered with what can generously be considered errors, and suspiciously be viewed as attempts to manipulate the data to favor the EEOC’s claims. One of the 4th Circuit Justices even wrote separately to admonish the EEOC for “disappointing litigation conduct” in attempting to use Murphy as an expert witness despite his methodological shortcomings and habit of using suspect data that may be “cherry-picked” to favor one side.
Finding “the sheer number of omissions in Murphy’s analysis renders it ‘outside the range where experts might reasonably differ,’” the 4th Circuit agreed with the trial court that the EEOC’s expert witness failed to provide a reliable report and was therefore not fit to testify at trial. As a result of the decision, the EEOC’s complaint has been dismissed.