Supreme Court Decides: Proving Retaliation Under Title VII

It was a busy day for the Supreme Court, and, in particular, with regard to the employment context. But, in its second decision of the day relating to Title VII, the Court issued another favorable ruling for employers.

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the Court was tasked with deciding the standard a plaintiff must meet to establish a retaliation claim under Title VII (e.g., a claim that the employer retaliated against the employee for engaging in protected activity — opposing an unlawful practice or participating in an investigation or filing an EEOC Charge).

When a plaintiff brings a claim for discrimination under Title VII, he or she can win merely by showing that the discrimination was a “motivating factor” in the employment decision. The question in Nassar was whether this low standard also applies to prove a retaliation claim under Title VII. The Court ruled that it does not. Rather, a plaintiff must show that the desire to retaliate was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action, i.e., that the employer would not have made its decision but for the plaintiff’s protected activity.

This is definitely a blow to Nassar, but it remains to be seen whether this will cause plaintiffs to file less retaliation claims.