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Major HR Court Decisions

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973)

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), was an early substantive ruling by the United States Supreme Court regarding the burdens and nature of proof in proving a Title VII case and the order in which plaintiffs and defendants present proof. It was the seminal case in the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a United States federal law that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. After the Supreme Court ruling, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (Pub. L. 102-166) amended several sections of Title VII.[1]

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal government agency mandated under Title VII and other laws to process employment discrimination claims. A plaintiff in any lawsuit filed in federal court alleging unlawful employment discrimination must have received a letter from the EEOC granting the right to sue. This letter is obtained if the plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the act of discrimination (or 300 days in certain cases when the complaint is filed with the state agency tasked to handle violations of state law). [2]

Title VII prohibits employment discrimination "because of" certain reasons. While "because of" may be understood in the conversational sense, the McDonnell Douglas case was the first landmark case to define this phrase.

Early history of the parties


McDonnell Douglas
was an aerospace company in St. Louis at the time of the lawsuit, but has since been acquired by Boeing. Percy Green was a black mechanic and laboratory technician laid off by McDonnell Douglas in 1964 during a reduction in force at the company.

Green, a long-time activist in the civil rights movement, protested that his discharge was racially motivated. He and others used cars to block roads to McDonnell Douglas factories. On one occasion, someone used a chain to lock the front door of a McDonnell Douglas downtown business office, preventing employees from leaving, though it was not certain whether Green was responsible.

Soon after the locked-door incident, McDonnell Douglas advertised for vacant mechanic positions, for which Green was qualified. Green was not hired, McDonnell Douglas citing his participation in blocking traffic and chaining the building.

Green subsequently filed a complaint with the EEOC, sued in U.S. District Court, and later appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit before the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court decision

The Court wrote:
1. A complainant's right to bring suit under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not confined to charges as to which the EEOC has made a reasonable-cause finding, and the District Court's error in holding to the contrary was not harmless since the issues raised with respect to 703 (a) (1) were not identical to those with respect to 704 (a) and the dismissal of the former charge may have prejudiced respondent's efforts at trial.

2. In a private, non-class-action complaint under Title VII charging racial employment discrimination, the complainant has the burden of establishing a prima facie case, which he can satisfy by showing that (i) he belongs to a racial minority; (ii) he applied and was qualified for a job the employer was trying to fill; (iii) though qualified, he was rejected; and (iv) thereafter the employer continued to seek applicants with complainant's qualifications.

3. Here, the Court of Appeals, though correctly holding that respondent proved a prima facie case, erred in holding that petitioner had not discharged its burden of proof in rebuttal by showing that its stated reason for the rehiring refusal was based on respondent's illegal activity. But on remand respondent must be afforded a fair opportunity of proving that petitioner's stated reason was just a pretext for a racially discriminatory decision, such as by showing that whites engaging in similar illegal activity were retained or hired by petitioner. Other evidence that may be relevant, depending on the circumstances, could include facts that petitioner had discriminated against respondent when he was an employee or followed a discriminatory policy toward minority employees.

Read the Case.......                  

Read the citations here....

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