Discrimination and Retaliation: Court Examines ‘Whistleblower’ Provision of Civil Rights Act

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  The Civil Rights Act also contains a “whistleblower” provision which prohibits employers from retaliation against employees who complain of Title VII violations.  The United States Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case involving the question of whether Title VII’s retaliation provision requires an aggrieved employee to prove that the employers’ conduct (retaliation) was a direct result of the employee making the complaint (“but for” causation) OR whether the employee only has to prove that the employee’s complaint was a “motivating factor” for an adverse employment action.  Univ, of Texas Southwestern Med. Centr. V. Nassar, 674 F. 3d, cert. granted January 18, 2013.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that Title VII only requires a plaintiff to prove that discrimination was motivating factor; however the Act is silent on the burden of proof for retaliation claims.  Either way, the Court’s ruling in this case will have a significant impact on how employers view employee claims of discrimination and future retaliatory discharge claims.

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