450 U.S. 248 (1981), 79-1764, Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine
|Docket Nº:||No. 79-1764|
|Citation:||450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207|
|Party Name:||Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine|
|Case Date:||March 04, 1981|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Argued December 9, 1980
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
Respondent filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging, inter alia, that her [101 S.Ct. 1091] termination of employment with petitioner was predicated on gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court found that the testimony for petitioner sufficiently had rebutted respondent's allegation of gender discrimination in the decision to terminate her employment. The Court of Appeals reversed this finding, holding that the defendant in a Title VII case bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment action, and also must prove by objective evidence that those hired were better qualified than the plaintiff, and that the testimony for petitioner did not carry either of these burdens.
Held: When the plaintiff in a Title VII case has proved a prima facie case of employment discrimination, the defendant bears only the burden of explaining clearly the nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions. Pp. 252-260.
(a) As set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, the basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof in a Title VII case, is as follows. First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." Id. at 802. Third, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination. The defendant need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the proffered reasons, but it is sufficient if the defendant's evidence raises a genuine issue of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff. To accomplish this, the defendant must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for the plaintiff's rejection. Pp. 252-256.
(b) The Court of Appeals erred by requiring petitioner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating respondent. By doing this, the court required much more than is required by McDonnell Douglas, supra. and its progeny: it placed on petitioner the burden of persuading the court that it had convincing, objective reasons for preferring the chosen applicant above the respondent. Limiting the defendant's evidentiary obligation to a burden of production will not unduly hinder the plaintiff. Pp. 256-258.
(c) The Court of Appeals also erred in requiring petitioner to prove by objective evidence that the person hired was more qualified than respondent. It is the plaintiff's task to demonstrate that similarly situated employees were not treated equally, but the Court of Appeals' rule would require the employer to show that the plaintiff's objective qualifications were inferior to those of the person selected, and, if it cannot, a court would, in effect, conclude that it has discriminated. The Court of Appeals' views can also be read as requiring the employer to hire the minority or female applicant whenever that person's objective qualifications were equal to those of a white male applicant. But Title VII does not obligate an employer to accord this preference. Rather, the employer has discretion to choose among equally qualified candidates, provided the decision is not based upon unlawful criteria. Pp. 258-259.
608 F.2d 563, vacated and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
POWELL, J., lead opinion
[101 S.Ct. 1092] JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case requires us to address again the nature of the evidentiary burden placed upon the defendant in an employment
discrimination suit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. The narrow question presented is whether, after the plaintiff has proved a prima facie case of discriminatory treatment, the burden shifts to the defendant to persuade the court by a preponderance of the evidence that legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the challenged employment action existed.
Petitioner, the Texas Department of Community Affairs (TDCA), hired respondent, a female, in January, 1972, for the position of accounting clerk in the Public Service Careers Division (PSC). PSC provided training and employment opportunities in the public sector for unskilled workers. When hired, respondent possessed several years' experience in employment training. She was promoted to Field Services Coordinator in July, 1972. Her supervisor resigned in November of that year, and respondent was assigned additional duties. Although she applied for the supervisor's position of Project Director, the position remained vacant for six months.
PSC was funded completely by the United States Department of Labor. The Department was seriously concerned about inefficiencies at PSC.1 In February, 1973, the Department notified the Executive Director of TDCA, B.R. Fuller, that it would terminate PSC the following month. TDCA officials, assisted by respondent, persuaded the Department to continue funding the program, conditioned upon PSC's reforming its operations. Among the agreed conditions were the appointment of a permanent Project Director and a complete reorganization of the PSC staff.2
After consulting with personnel within TDCA, Fuller hired
a male from another division of the agency as Project Director. In reducing the PSC staff, he fired respondent, along with two other employees, and retained another male, Walz, as the only professional employee in the division. It is undisputed that respondent had maintained her application for the position of Project Director and had requested to remain with TDCA. Respondent soon was rehired by TDCA and assigned to another division of the agency. She received the exact salary paid to the Project Director at PSC, and the subsequent promotions she has received have kept her salary and responsibility commensurate with what she would have received had she been appointed Project Director.
Respondent filed this suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. She alleged that the failure to promote and the subsequent decision to terminate her had been predicated on gender discrimination in violation of Title VII. After a bench trial, the District Court held that neither decision was based on gender discrimination. The court relied on the testimony of Fuller that the employment decisions necessitated by the commands of the Department of Labor were based on consultation among trusted advisers and a nondiscriminatory evaluation of the relative qualifications of the individuals involved. He testified that the three individuals terminated did not work well together, and that TDCA thought that eliminating this problem would improve PSC's efficiency. The court accepted this explanation as rational and, in effect, found no evidence that the decisions not to promote and to terminate respondent were prompted by gender discrimination.
[101 S.Ct. 1093] The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed in part. 608 F.2d 563 (1979). The court held that the District Court's "implicit evidentiary finding" that the male hired as Project Director was better qualified for that position than respondent was not clearly erroneous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the District Court's finding that respondent was not discriminated against when she was not promoted. The
Court of Appeals, however, reversed the District Court's finding that Fuller's testimony sufficiently had rebutted respondent's prima facie case of gender discrimination in the decision to terminate her employment at PSC. The court reaffirmed its previously announced views that the defendant in a Title VII case bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment action, and that the defendant also must prove by objective evidence that those hired or promoted were better qualified than the plaintiff. The court found that Fuller's testimony did not carry either of these evidentiary burdens. It, therefore, reversed the judgment of the District Court and remanded the case for computation of backpay.3 Because the decision of the Court of Appeals as to the burden of proof borne by the defendant conflicts with interpretations of our precedents adopted by other Courts of Appeals,4 we granted certiorari. 447 U.S. 920 (1980). We now vacate the Fifth Circuit's decision and remand for application of the correct standard.
In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), we set forth the basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof in a Title VII case alleging discriminatory treatment.5 First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by
the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." Id. at 802. Third, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but...
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