THE ORIGIN OF THE FRAMEWORK
The McDonnell Douglas Framework is also known as a burden-shifting scheme. "The burden-shifting schemes, developed initially in the federal courts, were an effort to formulate uniform rules for making a prima facie case." Kastanis v. Educational Employees Credit Union, 122 Wn.2d 483, 490, 859 P.2d 26 (1993) (hyperlink added). "These rules were never intended as a charge to the jury." Id. (citing, United States Postal Serv. Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 716, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 1482, 75 L.Ed.2d 403 (1983)). "Recognizing the 'lack of harmony' among judges on the rules applicable to establishing a prima facie case under title VII, the Supreme Court addressed the difficulty by formulating a 3-step burden-shifting test in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 801, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1823, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)." Id. (hyperlink added).
THE MCDONNELL DOUGLAS FRAMEWORK
STEP 1: The "plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, which creates a presumption of discrimination." Scrivener v. Clark College, 181 Wn.2d 439, 446, 334 P.3d 541, (2014) (citing, Riehl, 152 Wn.2d at 149-50; Kastanis v. Educ. Emps. Credit Union, 122 Wn.2d 483, 490, 859 P.2d 26, 865 P.2d 507 (1993)) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis & hyperlink added).
STEP 2: "[T]he burden shifts to the defendant, who must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action." Mikkelsen v. Public Utility District No. 1 of Kittitas County, 189 Wn.2d 516, 527 (Wash. 2017) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (emphasis & hyperlink added).
: "[I]f the defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence showing that the defendant's alleged nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action was a pretext
(internal citations omitted) (emphasis & hyperlink added).
THE POLICY BEHIND THE FRAMEWORK
"The purpose of establishing the prima facie elements under McDonnell Douglas
is to 'eliminate[ ] the most common nondiscriminatory reasons for the plaintiff's rejection,' namely, that the plaintiff is unqualified for the position or that the position no longer exists." Mikkelsen
, 189 Wn.2d at 531 (citing, Tex. Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine
, 450 U.S. 248, 253-54, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981)) (emphasis added) (hyperlink added).
WASHINGTON STATE ADOPTS THE FRAMEWORK
Intentional discrimination is difficult to prove. See Mikkelsen,
189 Wn.2d at 526 (internal citations omitted). Direct, 'smoking gun' evidence of discriminatory motivation is uncommon, because there will rarely be "eyewitness testimony as to the employer's mental processes." Id.
(internal citations omitted). As a result, Washington State courts have "repeatedly emphasized that plaintiffs may rely on circumstantial, indirect, and inferential evidence to establish discriminatory action." Id.
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
Accordingly, the Washington State Supreme Court "has adopted the standard articulated by McDonnell Douglas
in discrimination cases that arise out of RCW 49.60.180
and the common law." Kastanis v. Educational Employees Credit Union
, 122 Wn.2d at 490 (1993) (citing, Grimwood v. Univ. of Puget Sound, Inc.
, 110 Wash.2d 355, 364, 753 P.2d 517 (1988); Baldwin v. Sisters of Providence in Wash., Inc.
, 112 Wash.2d 127, 136, 769 P.2d 298 (1989)) (emphasis added) (hyperlinks added).
 Summary judgment for an employer is seldom appropriate in employment discrimination cases because of the difficulty of proving discriminatory motivation.
 When the record contains reasonable but competing inferences of both discrimination and nondiscrimination, the trier of fact must determine the true motivation.
 To overcome summary judgment, the plaintiff needs to show only that a reasonable jury could find that discrimination was a substantial factor in the employer's adverse employment action.
See Mikkelsen, 189 Wn.2d at 527-28 (hyperlinks added).
READ MORE OF OUR ARTICLES🔍
➣ For more information regarding Step 3 (the pretext element), read our articles entitled:
McDonnell Douglas Framework (Step 3): Proving Pretext
The Pretext Element: Self-Evaluations
The Pretext Element: Six Limitations
The Pretext Element: Two Methods of Proof
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