U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS mulls mixed-motive retaliation; Scalia sees no need to 'psychoanalyze Congress' for intent

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Supreme Court justices on Wednesday considered whether Congress intended to make retaliation cases more difficult to prove than other bias claims when it amended Title VII in 1991.

A lawyer for Dr. Naiel Nassar argued that his client should win if he proved retaliation was a motivating factor when his hospital employer blocked a job offer at an affiliated AIDS clinic, report the Associated Press and Reuters. A lawyer for the defendant, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, argued that the statute requires that retaliation be the only reason for the hospital’s action.

Nassar had claimed he lost the AIDS clinic job because of his prior complaints about a supervisor’s discriminatory remarks about his ethnic and religious background. The medical center, on the other hand, said Nassar didn’t get the clinic job because he was required to remain a teaching professor, a position he had resigned.

Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor appeared skeptical about arguments by the hospital’s lawyer, who argued the civil rights statute didn’t specifically include language allowing mixed-motive claims in the section dealing with retaliation. “Is there any other discrimination statute in which one can say there’s a different standard for proving retaliation than there is for proving substantive discrimination?” Kagan asked.

Justice Antonin Scalia, on the other hand, said it was the court’s job to read the statute rather than figure out Congress’ intent. “I don’t have to psychoanalyze Congress and say did they really mean it, blah, blah, blah,” Scalia said.

The case is University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar.

Prior coverage:

SCOTUSblog: “Argument preview: Proving retaliation under Title VII”

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