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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Get In the [Rule 408] Zone!: Court Finds That Unconditional Offers Of Reinstatement Are Not Covered By Rule 408 In E.E.O.C. Action Against Autozone

The recent opinion of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona in E.E.O.C. v. Autozone, Inc., 2008 WL 5245579 (D.Ariz. 2008), teaches an important lesson regarding Federal Rule of Evidence 408.

In E.E.O.C. v. Autozone, Inc.,  Chad Farr, an employee of an Autozone in Arizona suffered from Retinis Pigmentosa and was legally blind.  According to Farr, Autozone "[f]ail[ed] to permit him to return to work with a reasonable accommodation and, thereby, terminat[ed] him from AutoZone."  Farr thus filed a charge with the E.E.O.C., alleging violations of Title I of the ADA by Autozone.  And the E.E.O.C. thereafter brought an action against Autozone, which led to the court's opinion.

That opinion dealt in part with Autozone's motion in limine, which sought to preclude the E.E.O.C. from introducing into evidence offers of reinstatement it had made.  The court began its analysis of the issue by considering Federal Rule of Evidence 408, which states in relevant part that:

     "Evidence of the following is not admissible on behalf of any party, when offered to prove liability for, invalidity of, or amount of a claim that was disputed as to validity or amount, or to impeach through a prior inconsistent statement or contradiction:

     (1) furnishing or offering or promising to furnish--or accepting or offering or promising to accept--a valuable consideration in compromising or attempting to compromise the claim; and

     (2) conduct or statements made in compromise negotiations regarding the claim, except when offered in a criminal case and the negotiations related to a claim by a public office or agency in the exercise of regulatory, investigative, or enforcement authority. vestigative, or enforcement authority."

The court then noted, however, that "[w]hile Fed.R.Evid. 408(a) generally bars the admission of statements and conduct made 'in the course of compromise negotiations[,]' an employer's unconditional offer of reinstatement in a discrimination case is admissible and does not fall within the scope of Rule 408."  At the same time, the court found that it could not  conclude that Autozone's "letters constituted unconditional offers of reinstatement for purposes...due to their vagueness and due to the fact that they were not sent to Farr, but rather to Bentley Brunson, the EEOC investigator assigned to Farr's case."  The court, however, also found that it could not yet find that the letters were covered by Federal Rule of Evidence 408 and thus reserved the issue for trial.   

I don't have enough information to agree or disagree with the court's decision, but I agree with its conclusion that unconditional offers of reinstatement are not covered by Federal Rule of Evidence 408.  That Rule only covers compromises or attempts to compromise claims, and as the Second Circuit noted in Lightfoot v. Union Carbide Corp., 110 F.3d 898, 909 (2nd Cir. 1997), an opinion cited by the court in E.E.O.C. v. Autozone, Inc., "[b]y definition, an unconditional offer may not require the employee to abandon or modify his suit....The offer therefore cannot be considered an offer of settlement or compromise."

-CM   

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