509 U.S. 502 (1993), 92-602, St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks

Docket Nº:No. 92-602
Citation:509 U.S. 502, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407, 61 U.S.L.W. 4782
Party Name:ST. MARY'S HONOR CENTER et al. v. HICKS
Case Date:June 25, 1993
Court:United States Supreme Court

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509 U.S. 502 (1993)

113 S.Ct. 2742, 125 L.Ed.2d 407, 61 U.S.L.W. 4782




No. 92-602

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1993

Argued April 20, 1993



Petitioner halfway house employed respondent Hicks as a correctional officer and later a shift commander. After being demoted and ultimately discharged, Hicks filed suit, alleging that these actions had been taken because of his race in violation of, inter alia, § 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Adhering to the allocation of the burden of production and the order for the presentation of proof in Title VII discriminatory-treatment cases that was established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, the District Court found that Hicks had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of racial discrimination; that petitioners had rebutted that presumption by introducing evidence of two legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for their actions; and that petitioners' reasons were pretextual. It nonetheless held that Hicks had failed to carry his ultimate burden of proving that the adverse actions were racially motivated. In setting aside this determination, the Court of Appeals held that Hicks was entitled to judgment as a matter of law once he proved that all of petitioners' proffered reasons were pretextual.


The trier of fact's rejection of an employer's asserted reasons for its actions does not entitle a plaintiff to judgment as a matter of law. Pp. 505-525.

(a) Under McDonnell Douglas, once Hicks established, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of discrimination, Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-253, a presumption arose that petitioners unlawfully discriminated against him, id., at 254, requiring judgment in his favor unless petitioners came forward with an explanation. This presumption placed upon petitioners the burden of producing evidence that the adverse actions were taken for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons, which, if believed by the trier of fact, would support a finding that unlawful discrimination did not cause their actions. Id., at 254-255, and n. 8. However, as in the case of all presumptions, see Fed. Rule Evid. 301, the ultimate burden of persuasion remained at all times with Hicks, 450 U.S., at 253. The Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that the trier of fact's disbelief of petitioners' proffered reasons placed petitioners in the same position as if they had remained silent in the face of Hicks' prima facie case of

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racial discrimination. Petitioners' production of evidence of nondiscriminatory reasons, whether ultimately persuasive or not, satisfied their burden of production and rebutted the presumption of intentional discrimination. The McDonnell Douglas framework then became irrelevant, and the trier of fact was required to decide the ultimate question of fact: whether Hicks had proved that petitioners intentionally discriminated against him because of his race. Compelling judgment for Hicks would disregard the fundamental principle of Rule 301 that a presumption does not shift the burden of proof, and would ignore the admonition that the Title VII plaintiff at all times bears the ultimate burden of persuasion. Pp. 505-512.

(b) This Court has no authority to impose liability upon an employer for alleged discriminatory employment practices unless the factfinder determines that the employer has unlawfully discriminated. Nor may the Court substitute for that required finding the much different and much lesser finding that the employer's explanation of its action was not believable. Any doubt created by a dictum in Burdine that falsity of the employer's explanation is alone enough to sustain a plaintiff's case was eliminated by Postal Service Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 714. Pp. 512-520.

(c) The concerns of the dissent and respondent that this decision will produce dire practical consequences are unfounded. Pp. 520-525.

970 F.2d 487, reversed and remanded.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which White, Blackmun, and Stevens, JJ., joined, post, p. 525.

Gary L. Gardner, Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Jeremiah W. Nixon, Attorney General, and Don M. Downing, Deputy Attorney General.

Charles R. Oldham argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Elaine R. Jones, Charles Stephen Ralston, Eric Schnapper, and Louis Gilden.

Edward C. DuMont argued the cause for the United States et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Bryson, Acting Assistant Attorney General Turner, Edwin S. Kneedler,

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David K. Flynn, Rebecca K. Troth, Donald R. Livingston, and Gwendolyn Young Reams.[*]

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to determine whether, in a suit against an employer alleging intentional racial discrimination in violation of § 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 255, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), the trier of fact's rejection of the employer's asserted reasons for its actions mandates a finding for the plaintiff.


Petitioner St. Mary's Honor Center (St. Mary's) is a halfway house operated by the Missouri Department of Corrections and Human Resources (MDCHR). Respondent Melvin Hicks, a black man, was hired as a correctional officer at St. Mary's in August 1978 and was promoted to shift commander, one of six supervisory positions, in February 1980.

In 1983 MDCHR conducted an investigation of the administration of St. Mary's, which resulted in extensive supervisory changes in January 1984. Respondent retained his position, but John Powell became the new chief of custody (respondent's immediate supervisor) and petitioner Steve

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Long the new superintendent. Prior to these personnel changes respondent had enjoyed a satisfactory employment record, but soon thereafter became the subject of repeated, and increasingly severe, disciplinary actions. He was suspended for five days for violations of institutional rules by his subordinates on March 3, 1984. He received a letter of reprimand for alleged failure to conduct an adequate investigation of a brawl between inmates that occurred during his shift on March 21. He was later demoted from shift commander to correctional officer for his failure to ensure that his subordinates entered their use of a St. Mary's vehicle into the official logbook on March 19, 1984. Finally, on June 7, 1984, he was discharged for threatening Powell during an exchange of heated words on April 19.

Respondent brought this suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleging that petitioner St. Mary's violated § 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and that petitioner Long violated Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by demoting and then discharging him because of his race. After a full bench trial, the District Court found for petitioners. 756 F.Supp. 1244 (ED Mo. 1991). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded, 970 F.2d 487 (1992), and we granted certiorari, 506 U.S. 1042 (1993).


Section 703(a)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides in relevant part:

"It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer—

"(1) . . . to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).

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With the goal of "progressively . . . sharpen[ing] the inquiry into the elusive factual question of intentional discrimination," Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 255, n. 8 (1981), our opinion in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), established an allocation of the burden of production and an order for the presentation of proof in Title VII discriminatory-treatment cases.[1] The plaintiff in such a case, we said, must first establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a "prima facie" case of racial discrimination. Burdine, supra, at 252-253. Petitioners do not challenge the District Court's finding that respondent satisfied the minimal requirements of such a prima facie case (set out in McDonnell Douglas, supra, at 802) by proving (1) that he is black, (2) that he was qualified for the position of shift commander, (3) that he was demoted from that position and ultimately discharged, and (4) that the position remained open and was ultimately filled by a white man. 756 F. Supp., at 1249-1250.

Under the McDonnell Douglas scheme, "[e]stablishment of the prima facie case in effect creates a presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the employee." Burdine, supra, at 254. To establish a "presumption" is to say that a finding of the predicate fact (here, the prima facie case) produces "a required conclusion in the absence of explanation" (here, the finding of unlawful discrimination). 1 D. Louisell & C. Mueller, Federal Evidence § 67, p. 536 (1977). Thus, the McDonnell Douglas presumption places upon the defendant the burden of producing an explanation

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to rebut the prima facie case— i. e., the burden of "producing evidence" that the adverse employment actions were taken "for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." Burdine, 450 U.S., at 254. "[T]he defendant must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence," reasons for its actions which, if believed by the...

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