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U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Employer in Employment Discrimination Case

In a five-to-four decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that retaliation claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which governs discrimination in employment, are held to a stricter standard of proof than other types of discrimination claims. In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Court very strictly interpreted a statute that was enacted in order to overrule a prior Supreme Court decision. As a result, the Court found that in a retaliation claim concerning the denial of permanent employment to a temporary employee, the individual must prove that he or she would have gotten the permanent job, but was denied for the retaliation that occurred by the employer.

This is a higher standard than is required in other types of discrimination claims, where the employee need only show that the alleged discrimination, based on one’s status of race, religion, or sex, for example, was a motivating factor in the employer’s hiring decision, a standard of proof that is established by statute. As your Georgia employment attorney can tell you, this decision severely limits an employee’s remedies in discrimination-based retaliation claims.

More specifically, the Court reasoned that the language of the retaliation provision in Title VII shows no intent to use anything but the higher standard of proof. The new, lower standard of proof established for status-based discrimination claims by statute could have included retaliation claims, but it did not. Next, the structure of Title VII divides status-based discrimination and retaliation into two different sections of the statute, and the new standard of proof was established as an amendment only to the discrimination section of the statute, not the retaliation section. Finally, the Court declined to defer to the viewpoint of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in this matter.

As far as your Georgia employment attorney is concerned, the Nassar decision definitely makes it more difficult for plaintiffs to prove retaliation cases under Title VII. Additionally, judges will now have greater flexibility to perhaps dismiss these cases before they ever make it to a jury. This could potentially reduce the burden and cost on employers of fighting unfounded retaliation claims, but also may reduce the settlement value of valid retaliation claims for employees. The restrictiveness of this ruling could cause employment discrimination to continue to a greater degree, as it will be much harder to prove retaliation claims.

Despite the limitations set forth by this decision, however, employees or potential employees who experience adverse negative employment action as a result of retaliatory behavior by an employer have a right to seek recourse pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and numerous other federal and state laws with anti-retaliation provisions. If you or a family member finds yourself in this situation, you should contact your Georgia employment attorney today for a consultation about your potential claim. We can discuss your options and help determine whether you have a valid claim for retaliation or any type of employment discrimination under current law.