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Univ. of Tex. Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar

Supreme Court of the United States

April 24, 2013, Argued; June 24, 2013, Decided

No. 12-484


 [*342]  JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

When the law grants persons the right to compensation for injury from wrongful conduct, there must be some demonstrated connection, some link, between the injury sustained and the wrong alleged. The requisite relation  [***512]  between prohibited conduct and compensable injury is governed by the principles of causation, a subject most often arising in elaborating the law of torts. This  [****8] case requires the Court to define those rules in the context of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq., which provides remedies to employees for injuries related to discriminatory conduct and associated wrongs by employers.

Title VII is central to the federal policy of prohibiting wrongful discrimination in the Nation’s workplaces and in all sectors of economic endeavor. This opinion discusses the causation rules for two categories of wrongful employer conduct prohibited by Title VII. The first type is called, for purposes of this opinion, status-based discrimination. The term is used here to refer to basic workplace protection such as prohibitions against employer discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, in hiring, firing, salary structure, promotion and the like. See § 2000e-2(a). The second type of conduct is employer retaliation on account of an employee’s having opposed, complained of, or sought remedies for unlawful workplace discrimination. See § 2000e-3(a).

 [*343]  An employee who alleges status-based discrimination under Title VII need not show that the causal link between injury and wrong is so close that the injury [**2523]   [****9] would not have occurred but for the act. So-called but-for causation is not the test. It suffices instead to show that the motive to discriminate was one of the employer’s motives, even if the employer also had other, lawful motives that were causative in the employer’s decision. This principle is the result of an earlier case from this Court, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 109 S. Ct. 1775, 104 L. Ed. 2d 268 (1989), and an ensuing statutory amendment by Congress that codified in part and abrogated in part the holding in Price Waterhouse, see §§ 2000e-2(m), 2000e-5(g)(2)(B). The question the Court must answer here is whether that lessened causation standard is applicable to claims of unlawful employer retaliation under § 2000e-3(a).

Although the Court has not addressed the question of the causation showing required to establish liability for a Title VII retaliation claim, it has addressed the issue of causation in general in a case involving employer discrimination under a separate but related statute, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), 29 U. S. C. § 623. See Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 129 S. Ct. 2343, 174 L. Ed. 2d 119 (2009). In Gross, the Court concluded that the ADEA requires proof that the prohibited  [****10] criterion was the but-for cause of the prohibited conduct. The holding and analysis of that decision are instructive here.

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570 U.S. 338 *; 133 S. Ct. 2517 **; 186 L. Ed. 2d 503 ***; 2013 U.S. LEXIS 4704 ****; 81 U.S.L.W. 4514; 118 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1504; 97 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P44,851; 24 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 366; 2013 WL 3155234


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Nassar, MD v. Univ. of Tex. Southwestern Med. Ctr., 537 Fed. Appx. 525, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 15869 (5th Cir. Tex., Aug. 1, 2013)


Nassar v. Univ. of Tex. Southwestern Med. Ctr., 674 F.3d 448, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 4874 (5th Cir. Tex., 2012)

Disposition: Vacated and remanded.


retaliation, causation, status-based, EEOC, retaliation claim, but-for, sex, religion, unlawful employment practice, color, motive, national origin, motivating-factor, provisions, manual, motivating factor, words, cases, hiring, ban, discrimination claim, antidiscrimination, Compliance, federal-sector, workplace, lessened, Rights, terms, adverse employment action, employment practice

Labor & Employment Law, Disparate Treatment, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Age Discrimination, Torts, Elements, Causation, Causation in Fact, Intentional Torts, Prima Facie Tort, Elements, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Mixed Motive, Discrimination, Remedies, Scope & Definitions, General Overview, Statutory Application, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Retaliation, Causation, Americans With Disabilities Act, Disability Discrimination, Business & Corporate Compliance, ADEA Enforcement, Civil Procedure, Trials, Jury Trials, Right to Jury Trial, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Deference to Agency Statutory Interpretation