ACE has submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in a case that will decide what an employee must prove in order to prevail on a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that his employer retaliated against him.
Title VII prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee who has "made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in" any charge of unlawful discrimination. To prove retaliation, a plaintiff has to show, among other elements, that he or she suffered an “adverse employment action.”
The case, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, involves a medical professor and physician who claims the university retaliated against him after he complained that a supervisor had discriminated against him.
At issue is whether, as a member of a protected class, he must prove his protected status was the sole motive for retaliation (“but-for” causation), or just one of multiple reasons. Federal courts have split on which burden of proof is appropriate.
ACE and the other higher education associations submitting the brief argue that the mixed-motive definition is a threat to academic freedom and would “empower disgruntled employees to bring academic fights into the courts,” which is “especially troubling given that most colleges and universities provide extensive internal grievance procedures to report discriminatory behavior and to resolve disputes.”
The associations also encourage the court to adopt the straightforward, “but-for” causation, explaining how the mixed-motive, burden-shifting definition employed by the plaintiff is difficult to apply and would “place undue pressure on defendants to settle in order to avoid the high costs and uncertainty of protracted litigation.”
The case is scheduled for oral arguments on April 24.
SCOTUSBlog on University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar