Establishing Discriminatory Motive

September 9, 2011

California has adopted the three-stage burden-shifting test established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792 for trying claims of discrimination. Guz v. Bechtel Nat. Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 354. The so-called “McDonnell Douglas” test “reflects the principle that direct evidence of intentional discrimination is rare, and that such claims must usually be proved circumstantially.” Id. The first step in the test is for Gonzales to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The particular elements of a prima facie case “may vary depending on the particular facts.” Id.

Once an employee establishes a prima facie case, a presumption of discrimination arises. Id. The burden then shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption by producing evidence “sufficient to ‘raise a genuine issue of fact’ and to ‘justify a judgment for the [employer],’ that its action was taken for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.” Guz, supra 24 Cal.4th 317, 355-356 (internal citations omitted). Only if an employer sustains its burden does the presumption of discrimination disappear. Id. at 356. The next step in the test would be for the employee to “attack the employer’s proffered reasons as pretexts for discrimination, or to offer any other evidence of discriminatory motive. Id. (internal citations omitted).

In order to show that an adverse action was made for a discriminatory reason related to an employee’s disability, the employee need only show that their disability was a “motivating factor” that contributed to the adverse employment action, not that their disability was the only reason for the action. California Government Code section 12940. West v. Bechtel Corp. (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th966, 978 (citing Caldwell v. Paramount Unified School Dist. (1995) 41 Cal.App.4th 189, 198).

In some cases, a number of different actors may contribute to an employee’s termination. In order to prove that the employee’s termination was the result of discrimination, it is sufficient for them to show that anyone who influenced the decision-making process had discriminatory animus. Poland v. Chertoff (9th Cir. 2007) 494 F.3d 1174, 1182. Thus, even if the decision-maker did not personally have discriminatory animus, the discriminatory animus of anyone the decision-maker relied on in the decision-making process will be imputed to the decision-maker. Id.

“‘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. (9thCir. 2005) 156 Fed.Appx. 899, 902. “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,(9th Cir. 2002) 33 Fed.Appx. 287, 290 (citing St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks (1993) 509 U.S.502, 511).

An employee is entitled to reasonable accommodations for their disability. Gov. Code §12940(m). An employer is obligated to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with an employee to determine whether reasonable accommodations can be provided. Id. at § 12940(n). A failure to accommodate claim rests upon two elements: “First, the employee must request an accommodation. [Citation.] Second, the parties must engage in an interactive process regarding the requested accommodation and, if the process fails, responsibility for the failure rests with the party who failed to participate in good faith.” Gelfo v. Lockheed Martin Corp. (2006) 140Cal.App.4th 34, 54.

Author: Richard Hoyer
Category: Workplace Discrimination, Wrongful Termination
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