Title VII and Race Discrimination

June 6, 2011

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (United States Code, title 42, section 2000e et seq.) makes it unlawful for an employer to “discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race . . . .” The standard for summary judgment in discrimination cases under Title VII is the burden shifting test outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). 

First, the employee must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. In other words, the employee must show (1) that they belong to a class of persons protected by Title VII, (2) that they performed their job satisfactorily, (3) that they suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) that the employer treated them differently than a similarly situated employee who does not belong to the same protected class. Cornwell v. Electra Cent. Credit Union, 439 F.3d 1018, 1028 (9th Cir. 2006). 

Establishing a prima facie case gives rise to a presumption of discrimination. To rebut the presumption, the employer must produce evidence showing that it undertook the adverse employment action for a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.” McDonnell Douglas, supra, 411 U.S. at 802. If the employer satisfies its burden of showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action, then the employee can defeat summary judgment by showing that the employer’s proffered reason is a pretext for discrimination. Cornwell, supra, 439 F.3d at 1028.   

In order to prove that the employee’s demotion was the result of discrimination, it is sufficient for the employee to show that anyone who influenced the decision-making process had discriminatory animus. Poland v. Chertoff, 494 F.3d 1174, 1182 (9th Cir. 2007). Thus, even if a decision-maker did not personally have discriminatory animus, the discriminatory animus of a decision-maker’s advisors will be imputed to the decision-maker. Id. 

Employment discrimination plaintiffs ordinarily must use circumstantial evidence to prove pretext because direct evidence rarely exists. Cornwell, supra, 439 F.3d at 1029. “‘Shifting, contradictory, implausible, uninformed, or factually baseless justifications for [an employer’s] actions’ may raise a triable issue of pretext.” Price v. McDonald’s Corp., 156 Fed.Appx. 899, 902 (9th Cir. 2005). “A jury can make a finding of discrimination based solely on its disbelief of a Title VII defendant’s proffered explanation.” Phillip v. Mayo Clinic Arizona, 33 Fed.Appx. 287, 290 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 511 (1993)). 

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because that employee has “opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge . . . under this subchapter.” To make a prima facie case of retaliation, Plaintiff must show that “(1) he engaged in a protected activity; (2) his employer subjected him to an adverse employment action; and (3) a causal link exists between the protected activity and the adverse action.” Ray, supra, 217 F.3d at 1240. 

A variety of actions other than an outright demotion or termination can constitute an adverse employment action. “Unwarranted negative or reduced performance ratings . . . can be adverse employment actions.” Salazar v. U.S. Department of Justice, 98 Fed.Appx. 623, 625 (9th Cir. 2004).“[A] transfer to another job of the same pay and status may constitute an adverse employment action.” Ray v. Henderson, 217 F.3d 1234, 1241 (9th Cir. 2000) (referring to St. John v. Employment Development Dept., 642 F.2d 273, 274 (9th Cir. 1981).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure rule 56 permits a party to file a motion for summary judgment. The motion must be denied if the pleadings, discovery, or any affidavits show that there is a genuine issue as to any material fact or if the moving party is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 56 does not permit a “trial of real and genuinely contested issues of fact by affidavit.” Suckow Borax Mines Consol. v. Borax Consol., 185 F.2d 196, 205 (9th Cir. 1950). The purpose of Rule 56 is not to deny litigants their right to trial if they have issues to try. Dawn v. Sterling Drug, Inc., 319 F.Supp. 358, 361 (D.C.Cal. 1970).

Author: Richard Hoyer
Category: Retaliation, Workplace Discrimination
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