Maryland Court of Appeals decides that Rule 5-404(b) applies only in criminal matters, not in civil matters

In Ruffin Hotel Corp. of Md., Inc. v. Gasper, ___ A.3d ___ (Md. March 21, 2011), which was a retaliatory discharge case, the Maryland Court of Appeals held that it was error to instruct the jury that that plaintiff is required to prove that her opposition to the unlawful harassing conduct was a "determining" factor in the decision to terminate her employment; rather, it was only necessary for it to be a "motivating" factor in the decision.  The Court also held that a negligent hiring and retention claim was not preempted by federal law, by Maryland anti-discrimination statutes, or by the Maryland Workers Compensation Act.

Last but not least, the Court of Appeals held that Maryland Rule 5-404(b) is applicable only in criminal matters, not in a civil matter like this.  Therefore, on retrial, the trial court need only apply Maryland Rule 5-403 on the issue whether her immediate supervisor's prior history of sexual harassment is admissible:

Because the foundational requirements of FRE 404(b) are so vastly different from the foundational requirements of Md. Rule 5-404(b), we are persuaded that Md. Rule 5-404(b) should continue to be applicable only to evidence offered by the State against the defendant in a criminal case. In civil cases, whether the evidence at issue is offered by a plaintiff or by a defendant, the admissibility of relevant evidence that presents the "possibility of [unfair] prejudice is to be dealt with pursuant to [Md.] Rule [5-] 403."

From the defendant's point of view, the net result of these rulings is to lower the evidentiary standard that the plaintiff must meet, while at the same time simplifying and easing the evidentiary rules that will govern the admission of other instances of sexual harassment.



4th Circuit Affirms Award of Summary Judgment Where Executive Found To Have Voluntarily Resigned to Take Another Position

In a published opinion, the 4th Circuit has affirmed the Eastern District of Virginia's award of summary judgment to an employer. In this case, the plaintiff had been an executive making over $200,000 per year. The 4th Circuit found that the evidence was clear that the executive had voluntarily resigned, and that there had been no constructive discharge. Honor v. Booz-Allen & Hamilton, No. 03-2076 (4th Cir. Sept. 2, 2004).