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Texas employment discrimination case to be heard by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will hear arguments involving a discrimination case against the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (TSMC) in Dallas. The employee in the case, Dr. Nassar was not hired by the hospital, and he sued for discrimination and harassment, alleging it was because he was of Middle Eastern descent.

A jury awarded him $3.5 million and the hospital appealed. The doctor's jury award was reduced on appeal, but the Court Of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court decision. The Supreme Court will have to decide the question of which type of discrimination analysis should be applied to this type of discrimination claim.

In general, in an employment discrimination case, an employee must provide some evidence of discrimination. The employer then argues they had "legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" for their action.

Then the employee offers evidence that the employer's reason is either pretext or mixed-motive. For pretext, the claim is that the employer's stated reason is only a pretext to avoid discrimination liability. For mixed-motive, the employee argues the stated reason from the employer was only one of the reasons for the adverse action, and that there was also an illegal discriminatory factor.

The case law is less than clear. There are multiple cases from the Supreme Court interpreting aspects of Title VII discrimination and the statutory language was amended between two important decisions, which further muddies the water.

It will be interesting to see if enough members of the court can agree on the framework courts need use when analyzing these cases, or if they will only confuse it further. The arguments are scheduled for April and a decision should be made by the end of June.

Source: SCOTUSblog.com, "University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar," January 18, 2013

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