Eleventh Circuit: Discrimination Test under Title VII


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December 12, 2023


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Quick Look

  • McDonnell Douglas is only one method for proving a Title VII discrimination claim.
  • Plaintiffs may also prove a Title VII discrimination claim through a “convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.”


In Tynes v. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the McDonnell Douglas test for proving a discrimination violation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To create a rebuttable presumption of intentional discrimination, McDonnell Douglas says that an individual must prove that they (1) belong to a protected class, (2) were subjected to an adverse employment action, (3) were qualified to perform the job, and (4) “similarly situated” employees outside their class were treated more favorably. If an employer can show that there was a non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, then the individual must show that the employer’s justification was pretextual and the real reason for the adverse employment action was discrimination.

In Tynes, the court said that McDonnell Douglas is “procedural” focusing on use of evidence; it does not create the “standard of liability” under Title VII. There, the employer claimed that the plaintiff did not provide evidence of employees who were “similarly situated in all material respects” and treated more favorably; but the plaintiff still was found to have proven her discrimination case, in part, because there was circumstantial evidence of similarly situated employees that the jury could find to have established the discrimination claims. The appellate court said that a plaintiff who doesn’t necessarily meet the McDonnell Douglas requirements can still prove their case by presenting a “convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence that would allow a jury to infer intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.”

The court said that “the ultimate question in a discrimination case is whether there is enough evidence to show that the reason for an adverse employment action was illegal discrimination. The prima facie case in the McDonnell Douglas framework can help answer that question—but it cannot replace it.” Although the McDonnell Douglas test remains applicable and relevant, employers should look at all facts in the situation when faced with Title VII claims.

Action Items

  1. Review discrimination claims with legal counsel to evaluate potential exposure and liability.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser. © 2024 ManagEase