In a February 22, 2016 opinion (Quigg v. Thomas Co. School District, et al.), the Eleventh Circuit adopted a new framework previously established by the Sixth Circuit for evaluating mixed-motive discrimination claims at summary judgment. Under this test, a plaintiff must establish only that her protected characteristic was “a motivating factor” for the adverse employment action.
In Quigg, the court rejected the use of the long-standing McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework for evaluating mixed-motive discrimination claims based on circumstantial evidence, finding the test “fatally inconsistent with the mixed-motive theory of discrimination because the framework is predicated on proof of a single, ‘true reason’ for an adverse action.” The court singled out the McDonnell Douglas test’s pretext requirement as inappropriate for evaluating “mixed motive” discrimination claims, as proving that an employer’s stated reason for a decision was pretext for discrimination requires employees to “prove that the ‘true reason’ for an adverse action was illegal.”
By adopting the Sixth Circuit’s framework set forth in White v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 533 F.3d 381 (6th Cir. 2008), the Eleventh Circuit now requires courts examining mixed-motive claims at summary judgment to determine whether (1) the employer took an adverse action against the plaintiff, and (2) a protected characteristic (race, gender, etc.) was a motivating factor for the adverse action.
Applying this newly-adopted test, the Eleventh Circuit found that the District Court had erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s Title VII and § 1983 mixed-motive discrimination claims, as she had presented sufficient evidence that her sex or gender was a motivating factor in her former employers’ decision not to renew her contract.