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Title VII Prima Facie Cases 2019, Volume 2

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THIS CASEBOOK contains a selection of U. S. Court of Appeals decisions that analyze and discuss the elements of a Title VII prima facie case. Volume 2 covers the Sixth through the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Title VII prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for opposing or participating in an investigation of an unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a); see also Lord v. High Voltage Software, Inc., 839 F.3d 556, 563 (7th Cir. 2016). To prevail on a Title VII retaliation claim, the plaintiff must prove that (1) he engaged in an activity protected by the statute; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) there is a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse action. Lord, 839 F.3d at 563.

Over the years, courts in t[he Seventh] Circuit have discussed two methods through which a claimant may prove a prima facie retaliation claim: the "direct" method and the "indirect" method. The direct method requires the plaintiff to simply present evidence satisfying the elements of the retaliation claim: (1) he engaged in a protected activity, (2) he suffered an adverse action, and (3) a causal connection exists between the activity and the adverse action. Sitar v. Ind. Dep't. of Transp., 344 F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2003).

The indirect method, by contrast, refers to the burden-shifting framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). That method allows the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case without proving a direct causal link by showing that (1) he engaged in a protected activity, (2) he performed his job duties according to his employer's legitimate expectations, (3) he suffered an adverse action, and (4) he was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees who did not engage in protected activity. Sitar, 344 F.3d at 728. If the plaintiff can establish his prima facie case with this indirect method, the burden then shifts to the employer to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. Adusumilli v. City of Chicago, 164 F.3d 353, 362 (7th Cir. 1998). If the employer does so, the burden shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer's stated reason is mere pretext. Sitar, 344 F.3d at 728.

In Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, 834 F.3d 760, 763 (7th Cir. 2016), we cautioned that these two methods are "just means to consider whether one fact ... caused another... and therefore are not 'elements' of any claim." We warned district courts not to split evidence into categories of "direct evidence" and "indirect evidence," but to instead evaluate the evidence as a whole to determine if it "would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff's race, ethnicity, sex, religion, or other proscribed factor caused the discharge or other adverse employment action." Id. at 764-65.

We did not reject or alter the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework in Ortiz; we simply clarified that there are not separate classifications of evidence to be evaluated under different standards, and we eliminated unhelpful surplus tests. Id. at 766; see also Ferrill v. Oak Creek-Franklin Joint Sch. Dist., 860 F.3d 494, 499 (7th Cir. 2017) ("Nothing in Ortiz ... displaced the burden-shifting analysis established in McDonnell Douglas."). In the wake of Ortiz, "[t]he McDonnell Douglas framework is just 'a formal way of analyzing a discrimination case when a certain kind of circumstantial evidence —evidence that similarly situated employees not in the plaintiff's protected class were treated better—would permit a jury to infer discriminatory intent." Ferrill, 860 F.3d at 499-500. [. . .]

Lewis v. Wilkie, 909 F. 3d 858 (7th Cir. 2018)

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