St. Mary's Law Journal


Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., the Fifth Circuit’s en banc decision in Rhodes v. Guiberson Oil Tools established the proper standard of causation in employment discrimination cases. The plaintiff must prove his or her protected trait was the “determinative reason” for the challenged employment action. Following Reeves, which appeared to overrule Rhodes and the doctrine of pretext plus, the Fifth Circuit struggled with the causation question. Despite the apparent confusion, the Fifth Circuit has largely reaffirmed not only its commitment to the Rhodes pretext-plus analysis, but also the determinative-reason standard for pretext cases. In order to avoid summary judgment, employment plaintiffs are required to introduce sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find employment discrimination. Reeves is not the watershed case many have proclaimed it to be, it merely disapproved of one circuit court panel’s review of the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a jury’s verdict in a single case. Reeves is merely a recitation of St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks concept of “pretext plus,” as such, Rhodes remains good law in the Fifth Circuit. Furthermore, its “determinative-reason” standard of causation in discrimination cases also continues to be valid. Yet, the Fifth Circuit has reconfirmed both concepts. In light of this analysis, the only thing which can truly be said of Reeves is that it was poorly written, as it does nothing to articulate any new theory of law and offers little to clarify any existing law. Notwithstanding Reeves’s alleged overruling of pretext plus, the Court bungled the concept of pretext plus, and by association clearly established employment law concerning plaintiff’s burden of proof. Therefore, as implicitly recognized by subsequent opinions, the Court’s confusing opinion in Reeves adds nothing to the fabric of employment law.


St. Mary's University School of Law