Back in January, we discussed an employment law dispute that began here in Texas and made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That case involved a doctor who accused the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center of retaliating against him after he filed a discrimination lawsuit. The medical center had apparently offered the doctor a job, but then rescinded the offer after learning of the discrimination complaint.
The doctor sued the medical center for illegal retaliation, and he won a $3 million settlement. The Supreme Court ultimately decided to review the case, however, after the medical center argued that the man did not prove that retaliation was the only reason the job offer was rescinded.
The medical center argued that the man should have to prove that the illegal motive–retaliation–was the employer’s only motive. So, the question before the Supreme Court was whether plaintiffs in such disputes have to show that an improper motive contributed to a negative employment action, or that the improper motive, in and of itself, caused the action.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that employees do in fact have to show that an illegal bias was the reason for a negative action, not that it only played a part in the action.
This decision will make it much harder for disgraced employees here in Texas to hold their employers accountable for discrimination and retaliation. This is because in many, many cases, an employer can easily argue that an illegal bias was not the only reason for a firing or adverse action.
For example, an employer might fire a woman as a result of pregnancy discrimination but claim that she was fired for making personal phone calls at work–adding what might be a legitimate reason for termination in order to get out of liability.
The ruling, however, is so controversial that some have called for Congress to intervene.
This ruling was one of two that the high court issued this week that effectively limited the rights of workers. We will discuss the second ruling next week.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Supreme Court limits workers’ discrimination, retaliation suits,” David Savage, June 25, 2013