Determined whether, if an employee can show that the employer’s stated reason for firing her was pretext, her case can go to a jury to decide whether the employer unlawfully discriminated.
In this age discrimination case, Reeves alleged that the manager who fired him told him he was "too damn old." A jury awarded Reeves $70,000, but the Fifth Circuit reversed, finding insufficient evidence of age discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to clarify a conflict in the circuits over the kind and amount of evidence necessary to prove intentional discrimination. On June 12, 2000, the Court ruled that if a plaintiff establishes a prima facie case and can show that the employer’s stated reason for dismissing her was pretext, the case can go to a jury to decide whether the employer unlawfully discriminated. The decision is significant because it clarifies that a plaintiff need not prove that discrimination was the real reason for the adverse action in addition to providing evidence of pretext.
The Court’s decision has broad implications for a range of employment discrimination cases, including those based on age, race, sex, religion, national origin, pregnancy, and disability, which rely on the same standards of proof. Legal Momentum joined an amicus brief filed by the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. Our brief argued that the inferential model of proof works well and that the bar should not be set too high for plaintiffs, who have less access than employers to evidence proving the merit of their claims.