Teske Katz Kitzer & Rochel partners Brian Rochel and Phillip Kitzer co-authored an article in the Spring issue of The Labouring Oar, published by the Federal Bar Association’s (FBA) Labor and Employment Law Section. Phillip and Brian wrote the article along with Frances Baillon, partner at Baillon Thome. The article, titled “Is McDonnell Douglas Too Burdensome? Circuits Question the Utility of the Decades Old Burden-Shifting Model,” analyzes recent court decisions calling into question the usefulness of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting scheme.
Noting the varying approaches in the federal circuits of applying the McDonnell Douglas test to employment claims, at least two judges have advocated for doing away with burden shifting, otherwise called the indirect method, altogether because of the confusion caused by its application. District Judge Paul Magnuson, sitting on the Eighth Circuit panel by designation, provided a lengthy exposition of McDonnell Douglas in Griffith v. City of Des Moines, 387 F.3d 733 (8th Cir. 2004), calling the direct/indirect evidence distinction a “legal fiction,” and opined that it “should have fallen into disuse after Congress amended the Civil Rights Act in 1991.” Likewise, Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood provided a well-reasoned critique of the indirect method in Coleman v. Donahoe, 667 F.3d 835 (7th Cir. 2012). Judge Wood wrote, “Courts manage tort litigation every day without the ins and outs of these methods of proof, and I see no reason why employment discrimination litigation (including cases alleging retaliation) could not be handled in the same straight-forward way.” The article concluded by suggesting the United States Supreme Court may ultimately take the issue to resolve the confusion within the circuits.
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