460 U.S. 711 (1983), 81-1044, United States Postal Service Board of Governors v. Aikens

Docket Nº:No. 81-1044
Citation:460 U.S. 711, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 75 L.Ed.2d 403
Party Name:United States Postal Service Board of Governors v. Aikens
Case Date:April 04, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 711

460 U.S. 711 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1478, 75 L.Ed.2d 403

United States Postal Service Board of Governors

v.

Aikens

No. 81-1044

United States Supreme Court

April 4, 1983

Argued November 9, 1982

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent, a black employee of the United States Postal Service, filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that the Postal Service had discriminated against him on account of his race by refusing to promote him. After a bench trial, the District Court entered judgment for the Postal Service, but the Court of Appeals ultimately reversed, holding that the District Court had erred in requiring respondent to offer direct proof of discriminatory intent and to show as part of his prima facie case that he was "as qualified or more qualified" than the people who were promoted.

Held: By framing the issue here in terms of whether a prima facie case is established by an employee's showing only that he was black, that he applied for a promotion for which he possessed the minimum qualifications, and that the employer selected a nonminority applicant, the parties and the Court of Appeals have unnecessarily evaded the ultimate question of discrimination vel non. By establishing a prima facie case, the plaintiff creates a rebuttable presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated against him, and to rebut the presumption, the defendant must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for the plaintiff's rejection. But when the defendant fails to persuade the district court to dismiss the action for lack of a prima facie case, and responds to the plaintiff's proof by offering evidence of the reason for the plaintiff's rejection, as was done here, the presumption drops from the case and the factfinder must then decide the ultimate factual issue of whether the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff. Here, the District Court erroneously thought that respondent was required to submit direct evidence of discriminatory intent, and erroneously focused on the question of prima facie case, rather than directly on the question of discrimination. Thus it is not clear that its findings of fact in favor of the Postal Service were not influenced by its mistaken view of the law; accordingly, the case is remanded so that the District Court may decide on the basis of the evidence before it whether the Postal Service discriminated against respondent. Pp. 713-717.

214 U.S.App.D.C. 239, 665 F.2d 1057, vacated and remanded.

Page 712

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 717. MARSHALL, J., concurred in the judgment.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent Louis Aikens filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., claiming that the United States Postal Service discriminated against him on account of his race. Aikens, who is black, claimed that the Postal Service had discriminatorily refused to promote him to higher positions in the Washington, D.C. Post Office where he had

Page 713

been employed since 1937. After a bench trial, the District Court entered judgment in favor of the Postal Service, but the Court of Appeals reversed. 206 U.S.App.D.C. 109, 642 F.2d 514 (1980). We vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment and remanded for reconsideration in light of Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981). 453 U.S. 902 (1981).

On remand, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its earlier holding that the District Court had erred in requiring Aikens...

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