Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine

PETITIONER: Texas Department of Community Affairs
RESPONDENT: Joyce Ann Burdine
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas

DOCKET NO.: 79-1764
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 450 US 248 (1981)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1980
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1981
GRANTED: Jun 16, 1980

ADVOCATES:
Gregory Wilson - on behalf of the Petitioner
Hubert L. Gil - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

The Texas Department of Community Affairs (TDCA) hired Joyce Burdine as an accounting clerk in the Public Service Careers Division (PSC). Burdine possessed several years’ experience, was promoted and was often assigned additional duties. Burdine applied for the supervisor’s position of Project Director, however, she never received a response and the position remained vacant for six months. When the PSC learned it would lose funding unless it appointed a permanent Project Director and completely reorganized the PSC staff, a male employee from another division was hired as Project Director. Three employees, including Burdine, were let go, leaving a male as the only professional employee in the division. The TDCA rehired Burdine and assigned her to another division where she received the same salary as the Project Director at PSC. Burdine sued the TDCA and alleged that the failure to promote her and the decision to terminate her were gender discrimination that violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district held that neither decision was based on gender discrimination. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed in part because the TDCA bore the burden of proof and did not prove it was more likely than not that the male employee hired or promoted was better qualified than Burdine. 

Question

After an employee has proven a prima facie case of discrimination treatment, does the burden shift to the defendant to persuade the court of the nondiscriminatory reasons for the termination of the employee? 

Media for Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1980 in Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 04, 1981 in Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Justice Powell has two -- the opinions in two cases to announce for the Court.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

The first of these is 79-1764, Texas Department of Commissioner of Affairs against Burdine.

This case comes to us on certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

It involves a proper evidentiary burden borne by an employer in a discrimination suit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Court of Appeals held that when a discharged employee proves a prima facie case of discrimination, the employer then must prove by preponderance of the evidence that nondiscriminatory reasons existed.

The Court further held that the employer also must prove that the person retained in the position at issue was better qualified than the rejected employee.

We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Circuits as to the appropriate burden of proof to rebut a prima facie case of discrimination.

Our prior cases have held that the employer’s burden is to identify clearly by evidence a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the employment decision.

This is merely a burden of going forward with the evidence, the overall burden of persuasion remands throughout the case with the plaintiff employee.

We think the Court of Appeals misunderstood our prior decisions and imposed an inappropriate burden of proof on the employer in this case.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated and the case remanded for the application of the correct legal standard.