Hearsay can Only be Admitted for Another Purpose if Such Purpose is a Material Issue
Sometimes, a party will try to introduce hearsay by arguing that that the document/testimony is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted (hearsay), but instead, is being offered for another purpose. This is an avenue to admit evidence that would otherwise be excluded under the hearsay exclusion. This was the situation in the employment litigation case, Mootry v. Bethune-Cookman University, Inc., 41 Fla. L. Weekly D146a (Fla. 5th DCA 2015).
In this case, the University terminated a tenured professor for cause and the professor sued. At trial, the University offered into evidence a report prepared by an investigator that summarized an investigation into findings of sexual harassment committed by the professor by victims not named in the report. The professor argued that the report contains numerous hearsay statements, particularly, the sexual harassment allegations by the unnamed victims. The University, however, stated that the report was not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted, but was offered to establish the reasonableness of the University’s actions in terminating the professor’s employment.
The appellate court held that it was harmful error for the trial court to admit the report with the hearsay statements into evidence. The court held, “when an out-of-court statement is being ‘offered for a purpose other than proving the truth of its contents[, it] is admissible only when the purpose for which the statement is being offered is a material issue in the case.” Mootry, supra, quoting King v. State, 684 So.2d 1388, 1389-90 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996).
The appellate court found that the reasonableness of the University’s actions was not a material issue in the dispute because the professor could only be properly terminated for cause if he breached his faculty agreement. The reasonableness of the University’s decision to terminate the professor had no bearing on whether the professor actually breached his faculty agreement. For this reason, the court held that the report was hearsay because it was actually being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted that the professor sexually harassed students.
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