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U.S. Supreme Court

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973)

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green

No. 72-490

Argued March 28, 1973

Decided May 14, 1973

411 U.S. 792


Respondent, a black civil rights activist, engaged in disruptive and illegal activity against petitioner as part of his protest that his discharge as an employee of petitioner's and the firm's general hiring practices were racially motivated. When petitioner, who subsequently advertised for qualified personnel, rejected respondent's reemployment application on the ground of the illegal conduct, respondent filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC found that there was reasonable cause to believe that petitioner's rejection of respondent violated § 704(a) of the Act, which forbids discrimination against applicants or employees for attempting to protest or correct allegedly discriminatory employment conditions, but made no finding on respondent's allegation that petitioner had also violated § 703(a)(1), which prohibits discrimination in any employment decision. Following unsuccessful EEOC conciliation efforts, respondent brought suit in the District Court, which ruled that respondent's illegal activity was not protected by § 704(a) and dismissed the § 703(a)(1) claim because the EEOC had made no finding with respect thereto. The Court of Appeals affirmed the § 704(a) ruling, but reversed with respect to § 703(a)(1), holding that an EEOC determination of reasonable cause was not a jurisdictional prerequisite to claiming a violation of that provision in federal court.


1. A complainant's right to bring suit under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not confined to charges as to which the EEOC has made a reasonable cause finding, and the District Court's error in holding to the contrary was not harmless, since the issues raised with respect to § 703(a)(1) were not identical to those with respect to § 704(a), and the dismissal of the former charge may have prejudiced respondent's efforts at trial. Pp. 411 U. S. 798-800.

2. In a private, non-class action complaint under Title VII charging racial employment discrimination, the complainant has the burden of establishing a prima facie case, which he can satisfy by showing that (i) he belongs to a racial minority; (ii) he

Page 411 U. S. 793

applied and was qualified for a job the employer was trying to fill; (iii) though qualified, he was rejected; and (iv) thereafter the employer continued to seek applicants with complainant's qualifications. P. 411 U. S. 802.

3. Here, the Court of Appeals, though correctly holding that respondent proved a prima facie case, erred in holding that petitioner had not discharged its burden of proof in rebuttal by showing that its stated reason for the rehiring refusal was based on respondent's illegal activity. But on remand, respondent must be afforded a fair opportunity of proving that petitioner's stated reason was just a pretext for a racially discriminatory decision, such as by showing that whites engaging in similar illegal activity were retained or hired by petitioner. Other evidence that may be relevant, depending on the circumstances, could include facts that petitioner had discriminated against respondent when he was an employee or followed a discriminatory policy toward minority employees. Pp. 411 U. S. 802-805.

463 F.2d 337, vacated and remanded. POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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