McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green
411 U.S. 792 (1973)

Facts:

  • Green, a black citizen of St. Louis, worked for McDonnell Douglas as a mechanic and lab tech. He was laid off when the company wanted to downsize.
  • Green was a long-time activist in the civil rights movement, and after being laid off participated in an illegal ‘stall-in.’
    • He and a group of others stalled their cars on main roads leading to the plant so as to block access to it.
  • Shortly after, McDonnell Douglas publicly advertised for a mechanic.
  • Green applied but was turned down because of his participation in the stall-in.
    • Green then filed a complaint with the EEOC.

History:

  • The District Court dismissed the complaint – nothing in Title VII protected such activity as employed by plaintiff in the stall-in.
  • The Circuit Court reversed the dismissal relating to racially discriminatory hiring practices.

Issue:
The burdens and nature of proof in proving a Title VII case and the order in which plaintiffs and defendants present proof.

Holding:
Cause remanded so complainant can be afforded a fair opportunity to show that employer’s stated reason for complainant’s rejection was in fact pretextual.

Reasoning:
Order and framework that employment discrimination cases must follow:

(1) The plaintiff in a Title VII trial must carry initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination and that may be done by showing

(i) That he belongs to a racial minority;
(ii) That he applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants;
(iii) That, despite his qualifications, he was rejected; and
(iv) That, after his rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued to seek applicants from persons of complainant’s qualifications.

(2) The burden then shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee’s rejection.
(3) The plaintiff must then be afforded a fair opportunity to show that the employer’s stated reason for plaintiff’s rejection was in fact mere pretext and a coverup for discrimination.

Here:
(1) Green proved a prima facie case – he’s a minority, was qualified and rejected, and the position remained open.
(2) McDonnell Douglas met its burden because nothing in Title VII compels an employer to absolve rehire someone who has engaged in deliberate, unlawful activity against it.
(3) Remanded to determine if the company’s stated reason was a pretext.

  • E.g., If there were white employees involved in the stall-in who were nevertheless retained or rehired.