Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, 539 U.S. 90, 5 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 90 (2003)


reasons, she was entitled to damages unless petitioner proved by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have treated her similarly had gender played no role. Petitioner unsuccessfully objected to this instruction, claiming that respondent had not adduced "direct evidence" that sex was a motivating factor in petitioner's decision. The jury awarded respondent backpay and compensatory and punitive damages, and the District Court denied petitioner's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. A Ninth Circuit panel vacated and remanded, agreeing with petitioner that the District Court had erred in giving the mixed-motive instruction. The en banc court, however, reinstated the judgment, finding that the 1991 Act does not impose any special evidentiary requirement.

Held: Direct evidence of discrimination is not required for a plaintiff to obtain a mixed-motive jury instruction under Title VII. The starting point for this Court's analysis is the statutory text. See Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U. S. 249, 253-254. Where, as here, the statute's words are unambiguous, the judicial inquiry is complete. Id., at 254. Section 2000e-2(m) unambiguously states that a plaintiff need only demonstrate that an employer used a forbidden consideration with respect to any employment practice. On its face, it does not mention that a plaintiff must make a heightened showing through direct evidence. Moreover, Congress explicitly defined "demonstrates" as to "mee[t] the burdens of production and persuasion." 2000e-2(m). Had Congress intended to require direct evidence, it could have included language to that effect in 2000e-2(m), as it has unequivocally done when imposing heightened proof requirements in other circumstances. See, e. g., 42 U. S. C. 5851(b)(3)(D). Title VII's silence also suggests that this Court should not depart from the conventional rule of civil litigation generally applied in Title VII cases, which requires a plaintiff to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence using direct or circumstantial evidence. This Court has often acknowledged the utility of circumstantial evidence in discrimination cases and has never questioned its adequacy in criminal cases, even though proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required. Finally, the use of the term "demonstrates" in other Title VII provisions tends to show that 2000e-2(m) does not incorporate a direct evidence requirement. See e. g., 2000e- 2(k)(1)(A)(i). Pp. 98-102.

299 F. 3d 838, affirmed.

Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. O'Connor, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 102.


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