Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90, 4 (2003)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 02-679. Argued April 21, 2003—Decided June 9, 2003

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it an "unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discriminate against any individual . . . , because of . . . sex." 42 U. S. C. 2000e-2(a)(1). In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228, this Court considered whether an employment decision is made "because of" sex in a "mixed-motive" case, i. e., where both legitimate and illegitimate reasons motivated the decision. Although the Court concluded that an employer had an affirmative defense if it could prove that it would have made the same decision had gender not played a role, it was divided on the question of when the burden of proof shifts to an employer to prove the defense. Justice O'Connor, concurring in the judgment, concluded that the burden would shift only where a disparate treatment plaintiff could show by "direct evidence that an illegitimate criterion was a substantial factor in the [employment] decision." Id., at 276. Congress subsequently passed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (1991 Act), which provides, among other things, that (1) an unlawful employment practice is established "when the complaining party demonstrates that . . . sex . . . was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice," 42 U. S. C. 2000e-2(m), and (2) if an individual proves a violation under 2000e-2(m), the employer can avail itself of a limited affirmative defense that restricts the available remedies if it demonstrates that it would have taken the same action absent the impermissible motivating factor, 2000e-5(g)(2)(B). Respondent, who was petitioner's only female warehouse worker and heavy equipment operator, had problems with management and her co-workers, which led to escalating disciplinary sanctions and her ultimate termination. She subsequently filed this lawsuit, asserting, inter alia, a Title VII sex discrimination claim. Based on the evidence she presented at trial, the District Court denied petitioner's motion for judgment as a matter of law and submitted the case to the jury. The District Court instructed the jury, as relevant here, that if respondent proved by a preponderance of the evidence that sex was a motivating factor in the adverse work conditions imposed on her, but petitioner's conduct was also motivated by lawful

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