On June 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII race discrimination case. Miller v. St. Joseph County, et al., No. 14-2989 (7th Cir. June 9, 2015). The plaintiff alleged that he was denied various promotions on account of his race, black. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that the promotion denials had anything to do with his race. There was also no evidence that he would have gotten one of the promotions if he were white rather than black. Therefore, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment. What is noteworthy about this opinion, though, is that the 7th Circuit announced a restatement of the method and burden of proof to defeat a motion for summary judgment in an employment discrimination case.
The 7th Circuit stated that instead of the traditional direct and indirect methods of proof, with their “cumbersome tests,” a new standard should be substituted. In order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff “one way or the other” must present evidence showing that he or she is in a protected class, suffered adverse employment action, and that a rational jury could conclude that the employer took the adverse job action on account of his or her protected class, and not for any non-invidious reason. The 7th Circuit clarified that its restatement does not do away with McDonnell Douglass Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Employment discrimination may still be established by making out a prima facie case to which the employer offers no rebuttal. If the employee establishes a prima facie case of unlawful employment discrimination, then the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer does so, then the burden of proof shifts to the employee to establish that the employer’s proffered reason for its adverse employment action is pretext to mask intentional discrimination.