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Court Ruling in Alleged Retaliation Case Favors Employers
Posted in General

The U.S. Supreme Court has clarified when employers can be liable for firing employees who have previously complained about racial or sexual harassment. In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee who sues a former employer claiming retaliation under Title VII must prove that the termination was because he or she complained of discrimination. If the employee can only show that the complaint was a factor in the employment decision, but cannot prove that it caused the decision, the employee loses.

In this case, a physician resigned as a faculty member from a medical school to work only at a hospital with which the school had a relationship. The doctor included claims of harassment and discrimination in his resignation letter. When the hospital sought the required approval of the medical school to hire the physician, the medical school refused and the hospital rescinded its offer. The doctor later sued and won a significant verdict, which was appealed based on the standard the court used for establishing liability against the employer.

The district court had ruled that, in order to prevail, a former employee only had to show that his or her complaint was a factor in an adverse employment decision, which made it easier for an employee to ultimately succeed in court. The Supreme Court’s ruling confirms that Title VII prohibits only retaliatory acts, not merely retaliatory thoughts or feelings. The court also noted as a factor in its decision the significant cost of litigation to employers, which has greatly increased as retaliation charges and claims have become much more popular. This decision improves the chances for employers to obtain summary judgment in retaliation cases.

To learn more about Philip C. Eschels and his practice, visit his profile.

  • Partner

    Phil is a partner and former co-chair of the Labor and Employment Department. He represents employers in defending against employment-related claims in both federal and state courts. He represents clients involving covenants not ...

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