Magazine article Workforce Management

High Court Sides with Plaintiffs in Pair of Cases

Magazine article Workforce Management

High Court Sides with Plaintiffs in Pair of Cases

Article excerpt


Even though two recent Supreme Court decisions on employment law were uncontroversial and unanimous, the fact that the justices ruled in favor of discrimination plaintiffs contradicts the rightward turn many expected from a court reshaped by President Bush.

"The Supreme Court on employment cases has not followed the stereotypical conservative (and) liberal lines," says Tyler Brown, managing partner in the Washington, D.C., region for employment law firm Jackson Lewis. "They have done a fairly bipartisan job of calling things as they see them."

The first case dealt with a racial discrimination matter. In its ruling, the high court demonstrated that it knows what it doesn't like when it comes to defining employment discrimination. But the justices declined to provide a clearer statement of what the standard should be.

On February 21, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta that had rejected a lawsuit brought by two AfricanAmerican men against Tyson Foods. The plaintiffs, Anthony Ash and John Hithon, alleged that Tyson passed them over for promotion because of their race, elevating instead less qualified white men.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the standard the appeals court used to determine that the plaintiffs had insufficient evidence. A discriminatory-hiring decision can be proved by comparing candidates' backgrounds only when "the disparity in qualifications is so apparent as virtually to jump off the page and slap you in the face, " the appeals court stated.

The Supreme Court wrote that the language was "unhelpful and imprecise as an elaboration of the standard for inferring pretext from superior qualifications."

"It suffices to say here that some formulation other than the test the Court of Appeals articulated in this case would better ensure that trial courts reach consistent results," the court wrote. …

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