The Ninth Circuit reminds courts that the notice pleading standard for garden-variety employment discrimination cases remains low under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, and that a simple three-page complaint can suffice.
The Sixth Circuit returns a Title VII case for trial, concerning claims that the City of Toledo discriminated against an African-American manager in work assignments, pay and evaluations, and also retaliated against him because he assisted another employee in complaining to the city about race discrimination. The panel holds that the district court applied too strict a standard at the pre-trial stage of the case, demanding proof that the "real" reason for the adverse actions was race discrimination. It also holds that at trial on the retaliation claim, the district court erred by excluding evidence of "other acts" targeting co-workers for the same activities.
Here's a case that addresses the vexing question, "What happens when a key fact witness in a Title VII/ADEA trial - the defendant's decision maker - dies before he/she can offer testimony?" The Second Circuit's answer is that the employer in those circumstances can rely on circumstantial evidence, here a folder of resumes that the decision maker reviewed when making the hiring decision at issue. So holding, the court affirms a jury verdict for the school district, allowing the paperwork to stand in the place of live testimony about the reasons why the plaintiff was not hired.
A reminder from the Fifth Circuit that, as long as we have McDonnell Douglas and Burdine, the employer in a disparate treatment race discrimination case must - in response to employee's presentation of a prima facie case - produce admissible evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for taking an adverse action (firing, demotion, etc.). An employer that defaults on this burden of production buys itself a trial, as the defendant discovers here (in an action brought by the employees, and EEOC as intervenor). Judge Owen dissents.
Here's two decisions from the Eighth Circuit coming off Rule 50 orders granting judgment as a matter of law to employers. In the first, the court reverses, holding that There was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that an employee was constructively discharged by being knocked down from a title as finance coordinator to the board to a job in food service. In the second, an FMLA retaliation case, the plaintiff does not prevail -- but the court says something very important about proof at trial.
Two circuits, the Sixth and Seventh, issue back-to-back decisions criticizing district courts for applying an excessively-stringent standard for proving comparable employees under the McDonnell Douglas test. The Seventh Circuit - in a special concurring opinion by Judge Diane Wood, co-signed by her two co-panelists - goes a step further, and urges the end of this entire line of cases: "Perhaps McDonnell Douglas was necessary nearly 40 years ago, when Title VII litigation was still relatively new in the federal courts. By now, however, as this case well illustrates, the various tests that we insist lawyers use have lost their utility."
In a case of allegedly racially-motivated discipline, where there is no direct or circumstantial evidence of racial animus, the issue of how similarly situated the disciplined employees were can be key to whether the claim survives summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit today holds that a district court in a Title VII case erred in holding that a supervisor cannot be comparable to a line employee for purposes of applying the McDonnell Douglas method of proof, vacating summary judgment and remanding the claim for trial.
An employer can have the best anti-harassment policy that money can buy, at least on paper, but if it enforces the policy unevenly, the result can be even more legal trouble.
A 6-5 en banc decision from the Eighth Circuit affirms summary judgment in a sex and national-origin discrimination case involving the hiring of firefighters, vacating a prior decision that reversed summary judgment. The court disaffirms language located in 62 published, panel decisions since 1987 (collected in an appendix to the opinion) stating that summary judgment ought to be applied sparingly in employment discrimination cases.
Courts have applied the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting method of proof to Title VII, § 1983 and other discrimination cases countless times since its inception in the 1970s. The test classically allows employees who lack direct proof that their employers discriminated against them to raise an inference of discrimination, indirectly, by disproving the other lawful reasons that the employer might have had for its decision. Many courts get this test wrong, but here the Seventh Circuit gets it on the nose and - as a bonus - corrects the district court's application of the "stray remarks" rule and the "same actor" inference.