St. Mary's Law Journal


Eric S. Riester


Although the United States Supreme Court in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc. attempted to clarify the summary judgment landscape of Title VII employment discrimination cases, lower courts in the Fifth Circuit are still without guidance. Under Reeves, direct proof of discrimination is not required to defeat a motion for summary judgment as long as the circumstantial evidence allows a reasonable inference of discrimination. The required strength of the circumstantial evidence, however, remains a major issue in the Fifth Circuit. Since Reeves, the Fifth Circuit has not stated a uniform summary judgment standard, nor has it answered how much circumstantial evidence of discrimination is enough to avoid summary judgment.   As a practical matter, practitioners in the Fifth Circuit need to know what the summary judgment burden of proof is and how that standard will be interpreted and applied. Therefore, a more focused sufficiency of the evidence standard is needed to assist courts and practitioners in navigating the summary judgment landscape. The recommended standard for a plaintiff's case to survive a motion for summary judgment should be: (1) a plaintiff has presented evidence to support a prima facie case; and (2) has additionally presented admissible evidence showing that the defendant's legitimate nondiscriminatory justifications are false, such that reasonable people exercising fair and impartial judgment could reach differing conclusions regarding those proffered justifications. This proposed standard complies with US Supreme Court precedent and would allow cases with genuine factual issues to reach the jury where the evidentiary credibility decisions should be made.


St. Mary's University School of Law