439 U.S. 24 (1978), 77-1792, Board of Trustees, Keene State Coll. v. Sweeney

Docket Nº:No. 77-1792
Citation:439 U.S. 24, 99 S.Ct. 295, 58 L.Ed.2d 216
Party Name:Board of Trustees, Keene State Coll. v. Sweeney
Case Date:November 13, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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439 U.S. 24 (1978)

99 S.Ct. 295, 58 L.Ed.2d 216

Board of Trustees, Keene State Coll.

v.

Sweeney

No. 77-1792

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 13, 1978

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES

COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Where the Court of Appeals in respondent's employment discrimination action against petitioners (employer) appears to have imposed a heavier burden on the employer than Furnco Construction Co. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, requires with respect to meeting the employee's prima facie case of discrimination, its judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded for reconsideration in light of Furnco.

Certiorari granted; 569 F.2d 169, vacated and remanded.

Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. In Furnco Construction Co. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567 (1978), we stated that,

[t]o dispel the adverse inference from a prima facie showing under McDonnell Douglas, the employer need only "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection."

Id. at 578, quoting McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973). We stated in McDonnell Douglas that the plaintiff "must . . . be afforded a fair opportunity to show that [the employer's] stated reason for [the plaintiff's] rejection was, in fact, pretext." Id. at 804. The Court of Appeals in the present case, however, referring to McDonnell Douglas, stated that,

in requiring the defendant to prove absence of discriminatory motive, the Supreme Court placed the burden squarely on the party with the greater access to such evidence.

569 F.2d 169, 177 (CA1 1978) (emphasis added).1

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While words such as "articulate," "show," and "prove," may have more or less similar meanings depending upon the context in which they are used, we think that there is a significant distinction between merely "articulat[ing] some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" and "prov[ing] absence of discriminatory motive." By reaffirming and emphasizing the McDonnell Douglas analysis in Furnco Construction Co. v. Waters, supra, we made it clear that the former will suffice to meet the employee's prima facie case of discrimination. Because the Court of Appeals appears to have imposed a heavier burden on the employer [99 S.Ct. 296] than Furnco warrants, its judgment is vacated and the case is remanded for reconsideration in the light of Furnco, supra at 578.2 It is so ordered.

STEVENS, J., dissenting

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.

Whenever this Court grants certiorari and vacates a court of appeals judgment in order to allow that court to reconsider

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its decision in the light of an intervening decision of this Court, the Court is acting on the merits. Such action always imposes an additional burden on circuit judges who -- more than any other segment of the federal judiciary -- are struggling desperately to keep afloat in the flood of federal litigation. For that reason, such action should not be taken unless the intervening decision has shed new light on the law which, if it had been available at the time of the court. of appeals' decision, might have led to a different result.

In this case, the Court's action implies that the recent opinion in Furnco Construction Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, made some change in the law as explained in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792. When I joined the Furnco opinion, I detected no such change, and I am still unable to discern one. In both cases, the Court clearly stated that, when the complainant in a Title VII trial establishes a prima facie case of discrimination,

the burden which shifts to the employer is merely that of proving that he based his employment decision on a legitimate consideration, and not an illegitimate one such as race.1

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The Court of Appeals' statement of the parties' respective burdens in this case is wholly faithful to this Court's teachings in McDonnell Douglas. The Court of Appeals here stated:

As we understand those cases [McDonnell Douglas and Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324], a plaintiff bears the initial burden of presenting evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The burden then shifts to [99 S.Ct. 297] the defendant to rebut the prima facie case by showing that a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason accounted for its actions. If the rebuttal is successful, the plaintiff must show that the stated reason was a mere pretext for discrimination. The ultimate burden of persuasion on the issue of discrimination remains with the plaintiff, who must convince the court by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she has been the victim of discrimination.

569 F.2d 169, 177 (CA1 1978) (emphasis added).

This statement by the Court of Appeals virtually parrots this Court's statements in McDonnell Douglas and Furnco. Nonetheless, this Court vacates the judgment on the ground that "the Court of Appeals appears to have imposed a heavier burden on the employer than Furnco warrants." Ante at 25. As its sole basis for this conclusion, this Court relies on a distinction drawn for the first time in this case

between merely "articulat[ing] some legitimate, nondiscriminatory

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reason" and "prov[ing] absence of discriminatory motive."

Ante at 25.2 This novel distinction has two parts, both of which are illusory and were unequivocally rejected in Furnco itself.

First is a purported difference between "articulating" and "proving" a legitimate motivation. Second is the difference between affirming a nondiscriminatory motive and negating a discriminatory motive.

With respect to the first point, it must be noted that it was this...

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