The case on which this summary is based may no longer be current law.
Also, if the case was decided on summary judgment, the court recited the
"facts" in the light most favorable to the non-movant, which may not be
the true facts.
Fisher v. Vassar College, 114 F.3d 1332 (2d Cir. June 5, 1997)
Keywords: Title VII and ADEA (failure to promote,
scope of appellate review)
Introduction: This is an en banc review limited to the question of
whether a prima facie case of discrimination, coupled with a sustainable
finding of pretext, either bars or substantially restricts appellate review of a
plaintiff's verdict. The Second Circuit holds that there is no rule of law barring review
for clear error.
Facts: There are no additional facts relevant to this case summary.
McDonnell Douglas prima facie case simply denotes
what evidence a plaintiff must offer to avoid dismissal after presentation of the
plaintiff's direct case. The burden-shifting presumption excuses the plaintiff at that
stage from showing that discrimination was present and caused the adverse employment
action the plaintiff suffered.
Once the defendant articulates a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason,
then the presumption created by the prima facie case disappears and the
plaintiff's burden is enlarged to include every element of the claim.
Accordingly, discrimination cases differ from many areas of law in that
under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework, a plaintiff's satisfaction
of the minimal requirements of the prima facie case does not necessarily mean,
even if the elements of the prima facie case go unchallenged, that plaintiff will
ultimately have sufficient evidence to support a verdict on each element that plaintiff
ultimately must prove to win the case.
Furthermore, the essential elements of this diminished minimal prima
facie case do not necessarily support a reasonable inference of illegal
With respect to a showing of pretext, the fact that the proffered reason
was false does not necessarily mean that the true motive was the illegal one argued by the
Once a trial has moved to the state at which the plaintiff must prove
discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence, a defendant's false statements are
nothing more than pieces of circumstantial evidence, which may be employed, as in many
other types of cases, to reveal the speaker's state of mind.
As in any other type of case, the judge must analyze the evidence, along
with the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from it, and decide if it raises a jury
question as to whether the plaintiff was the victim of discrimination. If so, summary
judgment must be denied and/or a jury verdict for plaintiff must be sustained. If not, the
defendant is entitled to summary judgment or to the overturning of a plaintiff's verdict
as clearly erroneous.
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