McDonnell Douglas Framework (Step 3): Proving Pretext

McDonnell Douglas Framework (Step 3): Proving Pretext

Under the McDonnell Douglas Framework (Framework), as applied by Washington State courts, how does a plaintiff prove step 3 -- pretext? Here's my point of view (NOTE: please read our DISCLAIMER before proceeding).


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THE MCDONNELL DOUGLAS FRAMEWORK

The McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework has three steps:

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 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 added).

STEP 3: "[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." Id. (internal citations omitted) (emphasis & hyperlink added). 

A CLOSER LOOK: STEP 3 -- PROVING PRETEXT

Under the Framework, if the defendant-employer meets its burden to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff, who must then "produce sufficient evidence showing that the defendant's alleged nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action was a pretext." Id. (citing, Scrivener v. Clark College, 181 Wn.2d at 446) (hyperlink added). 

Employees can "satisfy the pretext prong by offering sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact either (1) that the defendant's reason is pretextual or (2) that although the employer's stated reason is legitimate, discrimination nevertheless was a substantial factor motivating the employer." Id. (citing, Scrivener, 181 Wn.2d at 446-47) (hyperlinks added).

PRACTICAL OUTCOMES
  • When "there is no evidence of pretext, the defendant is entitled to dismissal as a matter of law." Kastanis, 122 Wn.2d at 491 (citing, Grimwood v. Univ. of Puget Sound, Inc., 110 Wash.2d 355, 364, 365, 753 P.2d 517 (1988); Carle v. McChord Credit Union, 65 Wash.App. 93, 102, 827 P.2d 1070 (1992)) (hyperlink added).
  • And "[i]f there is evidence of pretext, the case must go to the jury." Id. (citing, Carle, 65 Wash. at 102, 827 P.2d 1070; see also Jones v. Kitsap Cy. Sanitary Landfill, Inc., 60 Wash.App. 369, 373, 803 P.2d 841 (1991)) (hyperlink added).


READ MORE OF OUR ARTICLES

For more detailed information concerning the pretext element, read our article: The Pretext Element: Two Methods of Proof.

For broader coverage of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, read our articleThe McDonnell Douglas Burden-Shifting Framework.

To see a Washington State court analyze an actual lawsuit for pretext, read our article: Crabtree v. Jefferson Cnty. Pub. Hosp. Dist. No. 2*.

(*NOTE: The link will take the reader to our external website: Court Slips.)


LEARN MORE

If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced Washington State Employment Discrimination Attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Please note: the information contained in this article is not offered as legal advice and will not form an attorney-client relationship with either this author or Williams Law Group, PS; please see our DISCLAIMER.
–gw

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