Is prima facie evidence enough to present a violation of the Discrimination in Employment Act?

Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods. - 530 U.S. 133, 120 S. Ct. 2097 (2000)


McDonnell Douglas and subsequent cases establish an allocation of the burden of production and an order for the presentation of proof in discriminatory-treatment cases. First, the employee must establish a prima facie case of discrimination. Once the employee establishes a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to produce evidence that the employee was rejected, or someone else was preferred, for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. This burden is one of production, not persuasion; it can involve no credibility assessment.


The former employee brought an action against the former employer alleging that the employer violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C.S. § 621 et seq., in terminating his employment. The trial court submitted the case to the jury, which rendered judgment in favor of the employee. The employer appealed, and the appellate court reversed, holding that although a reasonable jury could have found that the employer's explanation for the employee's termination was pretextual, this showing, standing alone, was insufficient to sustain the jury's finding of liability. The employee filed a petition for a writ of certiorari.


Is prima facie evidence enough to present a violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act?




The Court held that the former employee established a prima facie case of discrimination by his former employer, introduced enough evidence for the jury to reject the employer's explanation, produced additional evidence of age-based animus, and because there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that the employer had intentionally discriminated against the employee.

If this prima facie case is met, the employer must then state (but need not prove) a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for why it did not select the employee for the promotion.

After the company proffers a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason, the employee must then show that the company’s reason was a sham for impermissible discrimination and/or that the explanation is unworthy of credence.  See, e.g., Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing ProductsInc. 530 U.S. 133, 148 (2000); Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562. 575 (4th Cir. 2015).