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Home / Expert Opinion / Workplace Issues: Pretext plus not the standard needed for summary judgment

Workplace Issues: Pretext plus not the standard needed for summary judgment

Lindy Korn

Lindy Korn

The Court of Appeals reverses summary judgment in a racial discrimination case, holding that the jury may find employer’s reasons for denying the plaintiff tenure a pretext, even though the District Court did not find independent evidence of discrimination (Sands v. Rice et al, 14-3620-cv, Oct, 19, 2015).

The Second Circuit reverses summary judgment stating, “the District Court erred in holding that plaintiff’s proof that defendants’ explanation was false was ‘immaterial’ because she had not introduced additional, independent evidence of discrimination. The District Court also erred in failing to consider the probative value of that proof, as well as the strength of … plaintiff’s prima facie case.” The Court of Appeals also says plaintiff has proffered enough evidence to support a finding that defendants discriminated against her because of race.

The plaintiff was the guidance counselor at the high school. In dismissing her racial discrimination claim, the District Court assumed she made out a prima facie case. But the District Court granted summary judgment for the school, reasoning that “although plaintiff had attempted to manufacture a question of fact with respect to some of the deficiencies noted in her unsatisfactory performance evaluations, many of the deficiencies were unrefuted by plaintiff and regardless, any such questions of fact was immaterial as plaintiff had critically failed to come forth with any evidence that the decision to deny her tenure was based on her race or a discriminatory animus on  the part of defendants.”

This court tells us that in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing 530 US 133 (2000), the Supreme Court states  that “Reeves prevents courts from imposing a per se rule requiring in all instances that the claimant offer more than a prima facie case and evidence of pretext,” (citing Cross v. NYC Transit Auth., 417 F,3d 241 (2d Cir, 2005)). The Court of Appeals also says that plaintiff has proffered enough evidence to support a finding that defendants discriminated against plaintiff because of her race.

In other words, prima facie case plus pretext may, but does not always, support a finding of discrimination. This guidance urges a case by case analysis since the Supreme Court has provided no indication on how much pretext is enough to win the case in the absence of independent evidence of discrimination, such as a racist comment from a decision-maker.

Lindy Korn practices at The Law Office of Lindy Korn and can be reached at lkorn@lkorn-law.com, (716) 856-KORN (5676) or www.lindykorn.com.