(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this workplace harassment/sex discrimination case and its proceedings.)
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS IN WRONGFUL TERMINATION
A plaintiff in a wrongful termination case can overcome summary judgment by one of two ways: 1) offering direct evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory intent or 2) satisfying the elements of the burden shifting process outlined in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green and subsequent cases. (1973)411 U.S. 792, 802-804
Direct evidence is only one of the ways that a plaintiff can successfully oppose a summary judgment motion. When an employee offers direct evidence of discrimination, summary judgment is not appropriate and the burden shifting analysis need not be conducted. Godwin v. Hunt Wesson, (9th Cir. 1998) 150 F.3d 1217, 1221. However, direct evidence of discrimination is not required. Id. The Supreme Court stated that after the prima facie case has been established, merely the rejection of the defendant’s proffered reason will permit the trier of fact to infer the ultimate fact of discrimination. Id. at 147 (citing St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, (1993)509 U.S. 502, 511.
In addition to the direct evidence route, the burden shifting analysis can be used. California courts analyzing claims of discrimination under the FEHA apply the same shifting burdens analysis used by federal courts under Title VII. The analysis requires: (1) the Plaintiff first establish a prima facie case of discrimination; (2) the defendant then must produce evidence demonstrating a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination; and (3) the plaintiff must present evidence creating a triable issue of fact that the employer’s stated reason was untrue or a pretext for a discriminatory animus. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973); Guz v. Becthtel Nat’l Inc. 24 Cal.4th 317, 354-56 (2000)[FN4].
At the summary judgment the burden rests on the defendant to show that the plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case – in other words, the burden is reversed. University of So. Calif. v. Sup. Ct., 222 Cal.App.3d 1028, 1036 (1990). The requisite degree of proof to establish a prima facie case on summary judgment is minimal and does not even need to rise to the level of preponderance of the evidence. Chuang v. University of California Davis, (2000) 225 F.3d 1115, 1123. (See Part 10 of 19.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.