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Third Circuit Revives Employee’s Discrimination Action in ‘Mixed-Motive’ Case

In some New Jersey discrimination and retaliation cases, the employer’s action may be motivated plainly by discriminatory intent. In a lot of cases, though, employers are motivated in the actions they take by a mixture of discriminatory bases and legitimate bases. An important new decision from the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions cover New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, decided that an employee could use a mixed-motive theory in his case alleging that his employer discriminated against him for using Family and Medical Leave Act leave. Understanding all of the methods for pursuing your discrimination case and properly employing the right ones is just one of a wide array of areas in which your New Jersey discrimination attorney can provide invaluable aid to your case.

The plaintiff in the recent federal case was a man who took a job as a projects manager in 2008. At that time, he had suffered from migraines for 13 years, dating back to a 1995 accident. In March 2012, the employer transferred the manager to its engineering department. The job transfer almost immediately triggered a spike in the manager’s migraine problems. Just one month later, he applied for FMLA leave and was approved for intermittent FMLA leave.

By the following October, the employer terminated the manager. The manager sued, asserting a claim that, among other things, the employer discriminated against him for his seeking and using FMLA leave. The manager’s case asserted that the employer was motivated by a mixture of legitimate and discriminatory reasons, which is known as a “mixed-motive” theory of liability. In some situations, an employee’s case may assert that the employer’s motivation was completely discriminatory, but, in many cases, the employer is driven by a mixture of legitimate and improper impulses.

At the end of the manager’s trial, the judge declined to give the jury the jury instruction that the manager desired with regard to his FMLA retaliation claim and mixed-motive liability.

The jury found for the employer. The manager was, however, able to revive his case after an appeal. The Third Circuit concluded that the manager was entitled to the “mixed-motive” discrimination jury instruction that he had sought. One of the key aspects of the appeals court’s conclusion was resolving which level of proof is required in order for a plaintiff like this manager to be entitled to a mixed-motive jury instruction in an FMLA retaliation case. The court, drawing upon a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court Title VII case, decided that a plaintiff does not have to produce direct evidence in order to pursue a mixed-motive theory. The Third Circuit concluded that the Supreme Court’s direct evidence ruling in that Title VII case applied equally to FMLA retaliation cases as to Title VII ones. The court took note of the fact that four other federal appeals courts had already ruled similarly on the issue of circumstantial evidence and FMLA retaliation cases.

If you believe you’ve suffered from discrimination at work, contact the knowledgeable New Jersey FMLA attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our team has been assisting workers with their discrimination actions in both state and federal courts for many years. Contact us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys to find out how we can help you pursue the outcome you deserve.

More blog posts:

Sometimes Even a Supervisor’s Single Racial Slur Can Be Enough in a Discrimination or Harassment Case, Third Circuit Rules, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 21, 2017

Lesser Evidence Burden Allowed Professor to Continue Pursuing Her Title VII Retaliation Case, Third Circuit Rules, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 7, 2017

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