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
 
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Page 248

450 U.S. 248 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207

Texas Department of Community Affairs

v.

Burdine

No. 79-1764

United States Supreme Court

March 4, 1981

Argued December 9, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

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.

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(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

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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.

I

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

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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...

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