Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa

PETITIONER: Desert Palace, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Costa
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 02-679
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 539 US 90 (2003)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 2003
DECIDED: Jun 09, 2003

ADVOCATES:
Ann Elizabeth Reesman - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Ellen D. Bryant - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Irving L. Gornstein - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Jenifer Bosco - for the National Employment Lawyers Association as amicus curiae
Katherine Y. K. Cheung - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal
Mark J. Ricciardi - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Robert N. Peccole - Argued the cause for the respondent
Ronald B. Schwartz - for the National Employment Lawyers Association as amicus curiae
Stephen A. Bokat - for the Equal Employment Advisory Council et al. as amici curiae urging reversal

Facts of the case

Catharina Costa was fired from her job as a heavy equipment operator at Desert Palace Casino. She filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit, charging that the firing was the culmination of discrimination that had occurred during her employment. Jurors during the trial were instructed by the judge to rule for Costa if they determined that sex was a motivating factor in the firing, even if other (legal) factors were present as well. The jury ruled for Costa. Desert Palace appealed, saying that the instructions incorrectly shifted the burden of proof to the defendant in the case. A three judge panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling for the casino, but a subsequent review of the case by all 11 judges of the 11th Circuit reversed the panel's decision.

Question

Must a plaintiff present direct evidence of discrimination in order to obtain a mixed-motive instruction under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991?

Media for Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 2003 in Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 09, 2003 in Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 02-679, Desert Palace Inc. versus Costa will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Respondent was employed by petitioner as a warehouse worker and heavy equipment operator.

In 1996, she filed this lawsuit asserting a claim for sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case was tried before jury and after hearing the evidence, the District Court gave the jury a mixed motive instruction.

The District Court rejected petitioner's argument that under this Court's decision in Price Waterhouse versus Hopkins, a mixed motive instruction is appropriate only when a plaintiff has presented direct evidence of discrimination.

A Ninth Circuit panel vacated and remanded agreeing with petitioner that the District Court had erred in giving the mixed motive instruction.

On rehearing en banc however, the Court of Appeals reinstated the judgment holding that there is no heightened evidentiary requirement in mixed motive cases.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Congress amended Title VII in Civil Rights Act of 1991 which provides among other things that an unlawful employment practice is established "when the complaining party demonstrates that sex was a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice."

Under this new provision, direct evidence is not required.

Direct evidence of discrimination is not required for a plaintiff to obtain a mixed motive instruction under Title VII.

First, the statute on this phase does not mention, much less require that plaintiff make a showing through direct evidence.

Title VII's silence on this point suggest that we should not depart from our conventional rule of civil litigation that a plaintiff must prove his case by preponderance of evidence using direct or circumstantial evidence.

Second, the use of the term "demonstrates" in other provisions of Title VII tends to show further that the term does not include a direct evidence requirement.

Accordingly, because direct evidence of discrimination is not required in mixed motive cases, the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in giving a mixed motive instruction to the jury.

The opinion of the Court is unanimous.

Justice O'Connor has filed a concurring opinion.