Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins
490 U.S. 228 (1989)

Facts:
Ann Hopkins was a senior manager at Price Waterhouse. When she was refused a partnership, she sued under Title VII, alleging that the firm had discriminated against her on the basis of sex.

  • Of the 662 partners at the firm, only 7 were women.
  • Hopkins secured a $25 million contract with the Department of State.
  • Although she was described by many as a competent leader, hard worker, etc., she was also described as sometimes being overly aggressive, harsh, and difficult to work with.
  • She was also told that in order to improve her chances for partnership, she should “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.”

History:
The District Court held that Price Waterhouse had unlawfully discriminated against Hopkins.

  • The courts below held that an employer who has allowed a discriminatory impulse to play a motivating part in an employment decision must prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have made the same decision in the absence of discrimination.

Issue:
In order to avoid liability for gender discrimination, does the defendant have to prove by clear and convincing evidence, or a preponderance of the evidence, that it would have made the same decision regardless of the plaintiff’s gender?

Holding:
‘We are persuaded that the better rule is that the employer must make this showing by a preponderance of the evidence.’ Case reversed and remanded.

Dissent:
The dissent felt that the order of proof / framework for these cases was established in McDonnell Douglas and should be followed:

  • “Today’s creation of a new set of rules for ‘mixed-motives’ cases is not mandated by the statute itself. The Court’s attempt at refinement provides limited practical benefits at the cost of confusion and complexity…”
  • The final burden of persuasion belongs to the plaintiff.

Rule: When a plaintiff in a Title VII case proves that her gender played a motivating part in an employment decision, an employer may avoid liability by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision even if it had not taken the plaintiff’s gender into account.

*Important Note: The Civil Rights Act of 1991 responded to this case:

  • It allows an unlawful employment practice to be established when the complaining party demonstrates that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice.
  • If the employer demonstrates that it would have taken the same action absent the impermissible motivating factor, the court may grant the plaintiff declaratory relief, certain types of injunctive relief, and partial attorney’s fees, but it may NOT award damages.
  • Direct evidence of discrimination is not required for a plaintiff to prevail in a mixed-motive Title VII case.

In other words, if race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is found to be a motivating factor, the plaintiff is going to win the case no matter what. The employer successfully demonstrating that it would have taken the same action regardless of the discrimination is basically just a mitigating factor.

Rule: Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex stereotypes.