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Supreme Court justices seem split on Texas discrimination case

Back in January we discussed a Texas employment law case that was going to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard the case this week, and it appears that they--like the lower courts here in Texas--will have a difficult time making a decision. They are expected to decide the case this summer.

The case involves a doctor who says the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center revoked a job offer at its Parkland Hospital after learning that he filed a discrimination complaint. Thus, the doctor claims that he was fired in retaliation for complaining about discrimination, which is illegal. The hospital, however, says that the job offer was withdrawn because one of the doctor's former supervisors voiced opposition.

The doctor sued the hospital system in Texas and was awarded more than $3 million in damages, but the medical center appealed and argued that the jury only found that retaliation was one motivating factor in the decision to revoke the job offer but it needed to find that retaliation was the only factor.

So, the question before the Supreme Court is that of mixed-motive retaliation. In order to recover damages for retaliation, does retaliation have to be the sole reason for the adverse employment action--such as a firing, demotion or revoked job offer? Or, can retaliation be one among many reasons?

So far, it appears as if the judges are split on this issue. Their decision could have a significant impact on employment law. If they decide that retaliation must be the sole reason, it may make it more difficult to sue for retaliation because employers often mask the retaliatory reason behind seemingly legitimate reasons, like tardiness or attitude, for example.

Source: The Daily Record, "Supreme Court seems split on doctor's discrimination suit," April 24, 2013

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