The Supreme Court on June 24 ruled that employees can only win retaliation lawsuits if they can prove that their employer retaliated solely because of the employee’s protected activity. The 5-4 decision in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar was another significant victory for employers that should limit liability—and could lead to fewer retaliation lawsuits.
The questions before the Court:
- Must an employee prove his protected status or activity was the only reason he suffered retaliation? That’s the “but-for” standard: But for the protected status or activity, would the employer have retaliated?
- Or, can protected status or activity be just one of many motives for the retaliation? That’s a “mixed-motive” argument.
How have recent court rulings affected employers' legal rights? Get the facts, from hiring to firing, with The Employer's Practical Legal Guide.
The case: Dr. Naiel Nassar, a Muslim physician at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, complained that his boss subjected him to unreasonable scrutiny because of religious and ethnic bias.
Meanwhile, Nassar wanted out. He got a new job at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, which has a close relationship with Southwestern Medical Center. After accepting the offer, Nassar sent a letter to Southwestern Medical Center attributing his departure to “the continuing harassment and discrimination against me by [the supervisor].” Word of the letter quickly spread at both the university hospital and Parkland.
A few days later, Parkland withdrew its employment offer, leaving Nassar unemployed. He sued, alleging Southwestern Medical Center had arranged to have the offer pulled in retaliation for Nassar’s bias complaints. A jury awarded him more than $3 million in damages.
The hospital appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the judge should have told the jury that Nassar had to prove that he never would have suffered retaliation if he hadn’t complained about bias.
The Supreme Court agreed. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion stated that an employee “must establish that his or her protected activity was a but-for cause of the alleged adverse action.” The Justices sent the case down to a lower court for resolution. (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 12-484, U.S. Supreme Court, 2013)
Can you fire an employee simply for slacking off? Do you know when you can test for drugs—except alcohol? How do you contest an employee's unemployment insurance claim?
Find the answers to these questions and hundreds more—on virtually every aspect of employment law—in The Employer's Practical Legal Guide. You'll keep this desk reference close at hand to:
Sure, you'd rather ignore all these legal issues and get on with business. But you can't. There's too much at stake: your business itself! Order The Employer's Practical Legal Guide today.
- Avoid unnecessary attorney fees and litigation, and confidently apply the law to your benefit
- Prevent costly hiring mistakes—and even more costly terminations
- Easily find guidance on employee conduct and performance … employee handbooks … workers' safety and health … gender and age discrimination … sexual harassment … your rights regarding unions … and much more
- Management 101: Five legal lessons your supervisors must learn
- CVS fined for child labor, overtime and timecard violations
- Are we legally required to offer performance improvement plans and last-chance warnings?
- Employee's 'Audio Diary' Spawns Lawsuit Against Pittsburgh TV Station
- Do we have to pay employees who clock in early?