In a decision that elevates your legal risk in discrimination cases, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that employees no longer need to show direct evidence of discrimination to bring their case before a jury.
At issue: so-called "mixed-motive" cases, in which a legitimate reason for a firing or demotion is combined with a discriminatory one. Until now, employees who filed mixed-motive cases had to prove direct evidence of discrimination, such as a "smoking gun" statement from a biased boss. But the high court says circumstantial evidence showing the company's discriminatory motive is sufficient.
In this case, a fired warehouse worker won a $364,000 sex-discrimination judgment in a case that was tried as mixed-motive. The employee, the only female on an all-male crew, claimed she was treated differently. An appeals court tossed out her award, saying she should have been forced to provide direct evidence that her company fired her for discriminatory reasons. But the Supreme Court ruled that it's enough to show that race, color, religion, sex or national origin provided a motivating factor for the firing. (Desert Palace v. Costa, No. 02-679)