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U.S. Supreme Court

Texas Dept. of Commun. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981)

Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine

No. 79-1764

Argued December 9, 1980

Decided March 4, 1981

450 U.S. 248


Respondent filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging, inter alia, that her termination of employment with petitioner was predicated on gender discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court found that the testimony for petitioner sufficiently had rebutted respondent's allegation of gender discrimination in the decision to terminate her employment. The Court of Appeals reversed this finding, holding that the defendant in a Title VII case bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the employment action, and also must prove by objective evidence that those hired were better qualified than the plaintiff, and that the testimony for petitioner did not carry either of these burdens.

Held: When the plaintiff in a Title VII case has proved a prima facie case of employment discrimination, the defendant bears only the burden of explaining clearly the nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions. Pp. 450 U. S. 252-260.

(a) As set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U. S. 792, the basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof in a Title VII case, is as follows. First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection." Id. at 411 U. S. 802. Third, should the defendant carry this burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination. The defendant need not persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the proffered reasons, but it is sufficient if the defendant's evidence raises a genuine issue of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff. To accomplish this, the defendant must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for the plaintiff's rejection. Pp. 450 U. S. 252-256.

Page 450 U. S. 249

(b) The Court of Appeals erred by requiring petitioner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the existence of nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating respondent. By doing this, the court required much more than is required by McDonnell Douglas, supra. and its progeny: it placed on petitioner the burden of persuading the court that it had convincing, objective reasons for preferring the chosen applicant above the respondent. Limiting the defendant's evidentiary obligation to a burden of production will not unduly hinder the plaintiff. Pp. 450 U. S. 256-258.

(c) The Court of Appeals also erred in requiring petitioner to prove by objective evidence that the person hired was more qualified than respondent. It is the plaintiff's task to demonstrate that similarly situated employees were not treated equally, but the Court of Appeals' rule would require the employer to show that the plaintiff's objective qualifications were inferior to those of the person selected, and, if it cannot, a court would, in effect, conclude that it has discriminated. The Court of Appeals' views can also be read as requiring the employer to hire the minority or female applicant whenever that person's objective qualifications were equal to those of a white male applicant. But Title VII does not obligate an employer to accord this preference. Rather, the employer has discretion to choose among equally qualified candidates, provided the decision is not based upon unlawful criteria. Pp. 450 U. S. 258-259.

608 F.2d 563, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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