Confounding the Courts: The Circuit Courts' Failure to Articulate an Appropriate Summary Judgment Standard in Mixed-Motive Individual Disparate Treatment Claims

Derek Runyan


The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Quigg v. Thomas County School District solidified the division among federal circuits over the appropriate summary judgment standard in individual disparate treatment mixed-motive cases based on circumstantial evidence. At the moment, the circuits have adopted, in varying degrees, four distinct approaches. In Part IV, this Note argues that the circuit courts have failed to articulate a summary judgment standard that satisfies Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, reflects the statutory language of 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000(e)-2(m) (2012), and recognizes that the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework “is fatally inconsistent with the mixed-motive theory of discrimination.” For mixed-motive cases, this Note proposes in Part V that an appropriate summary judgment framework can be articulated by merging and modifying the Fourth and Fifth Circuits’ standards with the framework adopted by the Sixth and the Eleventh Circuits. Ultimately, this Note proposes the adoption of the following standard: in a mixed-motive case, a plaintiff may survive a motion for summary judgment by presenting direct or circumstantial evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether: (1) the defendant took an adverse employment action against the plaintiff; and (2) race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for the defendant’s adverse employment action.

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