St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks

PETITIONER: St. Mary's Honor Center et al.
RESPONDENT: Hicks
LOCATION: City Council of Hialeah

DOCKET NO.: 92-602
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 509 US 502 (1993)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1993
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1993

ADVOCATES:
Charles R. Oldham - on behalf of the Respondent
Edward C. DuMont - on behalf of the United States and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as amici curiae, supporting Respondent
Gary L. Gardner - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1993 in St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 92-602.

Spectators are warned and admonished not to talk until you get out of the courtroom.

The Court remains in session.

We'll hear argument next in No. 92-602, St. Mary's Honor Center v. Melvin Hicks.

Mr. Gardner.

Gary L. Gardner:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue in this employment discrimination case alleging racial discrimination in demotion and discharge is whether a district court is compelled as a matter of law, because of a finding of pretext, to enter a judgment for the employee even though he found as a matter of fact that there was no intentional discrimination and believed as a matter of fact there was no intentional discrimination.

The answer to that question is no because, as this Court said in Aikens, once legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons have been articulated for the employment decision, no presumption operates and the trier of fact must make a factual determination about whether there was intentional discrimination or not.

Aikens rejected a rigid, mechanistic, and ritualistic method of factfinding, a method that I think would straitjacket factfinders and actually obstruct the truth-seeking process.

If rejected a method like the method appearing on page 18 of the employee's brief on the merits, a method... a diagram type method which typifies a rigid approach to factfinding, which should not be taken in employment discrimination cases.

This--

Byron R. White:

Can I ask you one thing?

If the employer in a case like this, after a prima facie case has been made, just remains quiet or he doesn't offer any allegedly neutral ground, is the plaintiff entitled to judgment then?

Gary L. Gardner:

--In the usual case he is, Your Honor, because in the usual case, there's no evidence at all of any nondiscriminatory reason for the discharge.

Byron R. White:

Well, and if the employer offers on its face a neutral reason and the plaintiff fails to prove that it's a farce, the case is over.

Gary L. Gardner:

Well, if the employer--

Byron R. White:

That would mean the employer then is entitled to judgment.

Gary L. Gardner:

--If the plaintiff fails to prove pretext--

Byron R. White:

Yes.

Gary L. Gardner:

--yes, of course, the case is over.

Byron R. White:

But if the plaintiff proves pretext--

Gary L. Gardner:

The case is not over.

Byron R. White:

--Well, you think he's... it's not over.

He's in worse position than he would have been if the employer had stayed quiet.

Gary L. Gardner:

Not necessarily, Your Honor.

I can imagine some situations where the employer is silent in response to the prima facie case, but the case is not over because there are some situations where the evidence of the prima facie case may also contain in it evidence of a nondiscriminatory reason, as the evidence in this case in the evidence of pretext contained in it a nondiscriminatory reason.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, supposing the employer, after the prima facie case is made, testifies that my reason for firing the person was not discriminatory.

It was thus and so.

Well, that certainly is evidence of a nondiscriminatory reason, but the finder of fact isn't required to believe the employer when it comes to the ultimate decision, is he?

Gary L. Gardner:

No, he's not, and he's not required to believe the employee.