Supreme Court to Hear Sprint Age Bias Case That Could Limit Claims

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Sprint Nextel Corp.’s appeal of an employment case that could make it harder for workers to prove discrimination allegations.

The case centers on whether allegations by workers who are not part of an original lawsuit and who were supervised by other managers than those cited in the original filing can be considered at trial.

In filings to the court, several large companies, including AT&T Inc., urged the justices to take the case. They hope the Supreme Court will overrule a lower federal appeals court, which last year said testimony from other employees can be heard.

If the ruling by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, it expands employer liability for discrimination to include individuals who are not specifically cited in cases when filed, the companies say, and increase the frequency and cost of such lawsuits.

Besides AT&T, Honeywell International Inc. and Lockheed Martin Corp. filed friend-of-the-court briefs in this case.

The Sprint case began in 2003, when then-51-year-old Ellen Mendelsohn sued the company, alleging that she was included in a round of layoffs because of her age.

Mendelsohn sought to include testimony from five other Sprint employees at her trial. The employees would have testified that they had heard age-biased remarks and saw spreadsheets listing the ages of employees considered for layoffs, among other things, Mendelsohn’s attorneys said in court filings.

Reston, Va.-based Sprint Nextel argued that the five employees were not supervised by the same manager as Mendelsohn and worked in different departments, making their testimony not pertinent to her allegations.

The district court agreed and did not allow the witnesses to testify, and a jury ruled in Sprint’s favor. However, the appeals court reversed that decision.

The case, Sprint/United Management Co. v. Ellen Mendelsohn (06-1221), will be considered during the court’s next term, which begins in October.