Proving an Employer's Intent: Disparate Treatment Discrimination and the Stray Remarks Doctrine After Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products
Throughout the development of employment discrimination law, the United States Supreme Court has wrestled with the task of producing a suitable analytical framework, under which plaintiffs can attempt to prove their cases of disparate treatment by their employers. An element of this task has been determining which types of evidence of discriminatory intent have probative value, and what effect that evidence should have on plaintiffs' and defendants' cases. In June 2000, the Supreme Court decided Reeves v. Sander- son Plumbing Products,' a case involving a disparate treatment claim brought by an employee alleging age discrimination by his employer in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Reeves represents the most recent step taken by the Supreme Court in its effort to clarify what a plaintiff must prove, using circumstantial evidence, in order to prevail on a claim of intentional employment discrimination. In doing so, the Reeves Court also touched upon how evidence of remarks made in the workplace can assist plaintiffs in satisfying their burden of persuasion. Thus, the Reeves opinion may be viewed as having two major impacts on employment discrimination law: (1) it clarified the evidentiary burden borne by a plaintiff in a disparate treatment case; and (2) it modified the Stray Remarks Doctrine as it applies to such disparate treatment cases. This Note evaluates the current status of the Stray Remarks Doctrine in light of the Court's opinion in Reeves. It additionally seeks to determine which types of discriminatory workplace remarks, if any, should have probative value, both in cases where the plaintiff produces direct evidence of discrimination, and also in cases where the plaintiff must prove his or her case by circumstantial evidence.
Laina R. Reinsmith,
Proving an Employer's Intent: Disparate Treatment Discrimination and the Stray Remarks Doctrine After Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products,
55 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol55/iss1/5