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PJC signs onto brief in employment retaliation case

April 25, 2013: Dr. Naiel Nassar was a faculty member at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center and a doctor at the affiliated Parkland Hospital. In 2004, his new supervisor at the Parkland clinic started harassing him, subjecting him to greater scrutiny than other physicians and saying things like “Middle Easterners are lazy.” Dr. Nassar, a Muslim of Middle Eastern descent, lodged a complaint about the discriminatory treatment. He also accepted a new, full-time position at Parkland to avoid the supervisor, who was a faculty member at UTSW as well. When he resigned from UTSW and cited the discriminatory and harassing treatment as the reason for his departure, Parkland withdrew its offer. 

Dr. Nassar filed suit against UTSW, claiming that they had retaliated against him and that the harassment forced him out. The Public Justice Center, along with 18 other organizations, signed onto an amicus brief filed by the National Employment Lawyers Association in the United States Supreme Court in University of Texas Southwest Medical Center v. Nassar. NELA argues that while unlawful retaliation must prompt an employment decision, it does not need to be the only factor, and that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is violated if an illegitimate motive plays a meaningful role in the ultimate decision. 
How did the case get to this point? At the trial level, the jury determined that UTSW retaliated against Dr. Nassar. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals also upheld the decision. Moving to the Supreme Court, the case presents the question of whether the retaliation provision of Title VII and similarly worded anti-discrimination statutes require plaintiffs to prove that an improper motive was the only reason an employer took an adverse employment action (but-for causation) or prove that an improper motive was one of multiple reasons for the employment action (mixed motive). In an earlier case, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, the Court held that mixed motive discrimination claims are not allowed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. NELA’s amicus brief seeks to prevent the reasoning in Gross from being applied to Title VII and other discrimination statutes.

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