Supreme Court Makes It Harder to Recover In Retaliation Cases

In a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion, the high court raised the bar in litigating retaliation claims.  Dr. Naiel Nassar was employed by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  He complained of harassment and left his job in 2006 for another job at Parkland Hospital.  The hospital, however, withdrew its job offer when one of the former medical center supervisors opposed it.  He filed suit for retaliation and his claim went to trial.  The jury awarded him $3 million.  The Medical Center appealed, contending that the trial judge improperly charged the jury with a "mixed-motive" instruction, meaning that the jury could find in favor of the Plaintiff if it concluded that retaliation was a motivating factor in his discharge.  The Medical Center argued that the district court should have given a jury instruction stating that the Plaintiff's former employer could only be held liable if the supervisor's decision was the "but-for" basis for the retaliation.  The high court agreed, and reversed the jury verdict.  The court did not rule upon the merits of the case, but sent the case back down for further reconsideration in light of its ruling.  This opinion is in line with the Supreme Court's approach taken in age discrimination cases.  Several years ago, the high court ruled that in age cases, liability would only attach if age was the "but-for" reason taken for a discriminatory action.
Categories: Employment Law