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3rd Cir Jury Instructions on Pretext in Employment Discrimination

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 27, 2012 4:03 PM

Employment discrimination cases pop up every so often in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and here, the court addresses the elements of a prima facie racial discrimination case.

The court sided with the employer, Teva Pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, the discussion on employment discrimination is always interesting and worth digging into.

The plaintiff was an African-American male who was employed as a salesman for Teva. In brief, his Teva supervisors determined that his performance was sub-par. He was put on a performance plan and eventually terminated for bad performance, being replaced by a Caucasian male.

At the district court level, the court concluded that the plaintiff had not met his evidentiary burden of showing the elements of a prima facie case.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court on that holding, finding that the elements of a prima facie case were met. Namely, the plaintiff belonged to a protected class, had prior experience in pharmaceutical sales, and was replaced by a Caucasian.

The problem in the plaintiff's case came at the next level, involving the shifting burden. At the next level, a fact-finder would have to conclude that Teva's actions were pretextual, in order to find employment discrimination.

For a discussion on pretext in the Third Circuit, the model jury instructions on the Third Circuit's website are very informative.

Essentially, in order for there to be pretext, the determinative factor for the adverse employment action needs to be the plaintiff's protected status.

That's a hard bar to meet and in this case, the Third Circuit found that the plaintiff failed to satisfy that burden.

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