The complainant in a trial under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 carries the initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination. This 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. The burden then shifts to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.
After Green (plaintiff), a Negro who had been employed by McDonnell Douglas Corp. (defendant) as a mechanic, was laid off in the course of a general reduction in the McDonnell Douglas Corp.'s work force, Green participated in a protest against alleged racial discrimination by McDonnell Douglas Corp. in its employment practices. The protest included a "stall-in" whereby Green and others stopped their cars along roads leading to the McDonnell Douglas Corp.'s plant, so as to block access to the plant during the morning rush hour. When the defendant subsequently advertised for mechanics, Green applied for reemployment, but McDonnell Douglas Corp. rejected him on the asserted ground of his participation in the "stall-in." Green then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that the defendant had violated 703(a)(1) of the Civil Rights Act by refusing to rehire him because of his race, and that McDonnell Douglas Corp. had violated 704(a) of the Act by refusing to rehire him because of his activities in protesting against racial discrimination. The Commission made no finding on Green's 703(a)(1) claim but found reasonable cause to believe that McDonnell Douglas Corp. had violated 704(a). After the Commission unsuccessfully attempted conciliation, Green asserted his 703(a)(1) and 704(a) claims in the United States District Court. The District Court dismissed the 703(a)(1) claim on the ground that the Commission had failed to make a determination of reasonable cause to believe that the defendant had violated 703(a)(1). After a trial, the District Court dismissed the 704(a) claim with prejudice, on the ground that the McDonnell Douglas Corp.'s refusal to rehire Green was based on the Green's conduct during the "stall-in," which conduct was illegal and was unprotected by 704(a). The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the 704(a) claim, but the Court of Appeals held that a prior Commission determination of reasonable cause was not a jurisdictional prerequisite to raising a 703(a)(1) claim in federal court, and the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of the 703(a)(1) claim and set forth standards as to the parties' burden of proof, upon remand, with respect to the 703(a)(1) claim.
Did the Court of Appeals properly reverse the dismissal of the 703(a)(1) claim?
The Supreme Court affirmed the reversal of the dismissal of the § 703(a)(1) claim because an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finding of reasonable cause was not a jurisdictional prerequisite to the employee's federal action for violation of § 703(a)(1). In remanding the matter for trial, the court instructed the lower court on the order and allocation of proof for the employee's claim. The court found that the employee had presented a prima facie case of racial discrimination under § 703(a)(1) by showing that he was rejected for a job for which the employer knew he was qualified. However, the employer offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection in his participation in unlawful conduct against it. Therefore, the employee was entitled to a fair opportunity at trial to show that the employer used his conduct as a pretext for racial discrimination.