Discrimination: High Court To Hear Case On Standards Of Proof In Retaliation Claims

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case focusing on the standards of proof plaintiffs must establish to successfully pursue retaliation and other employment discrimination lawsuits.

According to the petition for writ of certiorari, which was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Naiel Nassar, M.D., the U.S. appellate courts are split on the legal precedents for this issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard workplace discrimination case

The U.S. Supreme Court

In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1989, the court held the discrimination provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires a plaintiff prove only that discrimination was a “motivating factor” for an adverse employment action, said the writ.

But in Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc. in 2009, the court held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 requires proof that age was “the but-for cause” of an adverse employment action “such that a named defendant is not liable if it would have taken the same action for other, nondiscriminatory reasons.”

The writ filed by the Dallas-based medical center’s attorneys says the appellate courts have been divided “on whether Gross or Price Waterhouse establishes the general rule for other federal employment statues such as Title VII’s retaliation provisions that do not specifically authorized mixed-motive claims.”

Discrimination: Constructive Discharge, Workplace Retaliation Alleged

In the underlying case, an assistant professor at the Dallas-based medical school, Dr. Nassar, felt that his supervisor, Dr. Beth Levine, was unfair to him due to his Middle Eastern heritage.

Dr. Nassar sought the same job at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, which is affiliated with the medical school.

However, an affiliation agreement between the medical school and the hospital, as well as the hospital’s rules, required that a physician seeking regular employment within the hospital’s geography be employed by the medical school.

Dr. Gregory Fitz, the medical center’s chair of internal medicine, refused to hire Dr. Nassar based on this agreement, according to the medical center’s legal filings.

What Dr. Fitz did not know was that another hospital employee “continued to work behind the scenes” to hire Dr. Nassar at the hospital. An offer letter was sent to Dr. Nassar in July 2006.

Dr. Nassar then resigned from the medical school and wrote a letter accusing Dr. Levine of discrimination. The hospital withdrew its job offer letter soon after, according to court papers.

Dr. Nassar then filed a lawsuit against the medical school for constructive discharge and retaliation.

The trial jury in the case was instructed that Dr. Nassar needed prove only that discrimination was one of the motives for Dr. Fitz’s actions, following the Price Waterhouse ruling

The jury found the medical school liable for constructive discharge and retaliation, awarding Dr. Nassar damages of about $3.5 million.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans subsequently reversed the constructive discharge verdict. However, the panel but upheld the retaliation charge.

It remanded the case for reconsideration of Dr. Nasser’s monetary recovery and award of attorney’s fees.

In July 2012, the 5th Circuit denied the medical school’s petition for a new hearing. The center filed its appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2012.


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