Nyemaster Goode, P.C.

U.S. Supreme Court Reinforces Application of Standard Adopted in Gross v. FBL

In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, the United States Supreme Court held that a plaintiff seeking to recover for unlawful retaliation under Title VII must establish that unlawful retaliatory intent was the but-for cause of the challenged employment action. The court rejected the argument that the less demanding “motivating-factor” test embodied in Title VII with regard to discrimination claims should be extended to retaliation claims.

The Nassar majority relied heavily on the Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167. Nyemaster Goode represented the prevailing party in the Gross case and derives special satisfaction seeing the Gross “but-for” causation standard properly extended in Nassar.

The Nassar court rejected the arguments of the EEOC and the plaintiffs’ employment bar that were premised primarily on concepts of “fairness” and the “longstanding agency views” contained in the EEOC guidance manual. The Nassar court instead looked to the plain language of the statute and to venerable concepts of causation.

The Nassar decision signals that the but-for causation standard will be applied where a statute outlaws conduct that occurs “because of” protected conduct or status. This same analysis can easily be extended to the Iowa Civil Rights Act. The Iowa Supreme Court has never been squarely presented with this issue.


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