If the plaintiff can show (1) that she is a member of a protected class; (2) that she was qualified for employment in the position; (3) that she suffered an adverse employment action; and, in addition, has (4) some minimal evidence suggesting an inference that the employer acted with discriminatory motivation, such a showing will raise a temporary "presumption" of discriminatory motivation, shifting the burden of production to the employer and requiring the employer to come forward with its justification for the adverse employment action against the plaintiff. However, once the employer presents evidence of its justification for the adverse action, joining issue on plaintiff's claim of discriminatory motivation, the presumption "drops out of the picture" and the McDonnell Douglas framework is no longer relevant. At this point, in the second phase of the case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the proffered reason was not the true reason (or in any event not the sole reason) for the employment decision, which merges with the plaintiff's ultimate burden of showing that the defendant intentionally discriminated against her.
Littlejohn is an African-American woman with a master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. She began working at ACS on April 27, 2009, as the Director of its Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") Office. As Director, Littlejohn conducted investigations of claims of discrimination, trained staff, monitored hiring, counseled agency employees, organized diversity activities, and advised staff on EEO policy, duties which she alleges she performed satisfactorily. She was later on demoted from EEO Director to a lower-paying, non-managerial analyst position in March 2011. Littlejohn filed a complaint on the ground that she was replaced by a white employee and that the white employee was less qualified for the position. The district court held in the alternative that Littlejohn failed to allege personal responsibility with respect to individual Defendants Mattingly and Stradford, and did not state a claim against the City.
Was the courts ruling proper?
The Court held that the district court erred in dismissing the claims of demotion, particularly to her employer and the chief of staff who was personally involved in the decision to demote the employee. Regarding the retaliation claim, the Court held that the district court erred in concluding that the employee's complaints were not protected activities under the opposition clause.