The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Univ. of Texas Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar that in order for a plaintiff to recover under a Title VII retaliation claim, the plaintiff must prove but-for the improper motive the employer would not have taken the employment action. This standard is same standard used in torts. Clarification was needed because proving causation for discrimination under Title VII is a lesser standard and only requires proof that the improper motive was only a factor in employment action.

The distinction for the causation standard is that retaliation for Title VII is under a different provision than discrimination, thus creating two different causes of action. The Court reasoned that if both provisions used the same standard for causation then that would defeat purpose of creating two separate causes of action because proving discrimination would also prove retaliation. Also, the Court reasoned that if Congress had meant for a lesser causation standard to apply to retaliation, it would have inserted the language to that provision when the discrimination provision was modified.

Title VII prohibits discrimination and retaliation on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.  Discrimination under Title VII applies to employment actions (hiring, firing, promotions etc.). Retaliation under Title VII applies when the employee complains, opposes, or sought remedies for the improper employment discrimination and the employer then retaliates against that employee.

Charles Wilbrand

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