On December 28, 2011, NELA, along with AARP and the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reject a district court decision requiring the plaintiff (a federal employee) to prove that discrimination was the “sole reason” for his non-selection. In Ponce v. Billington, plaintiff Jorge Ponce, a male, Hispanic, Cuban-American, alleged that in 2006 he was not selected for a senior position with the Library of Congress, a federal agency, because of sex, race, and national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII. After a four-day trial, the district court instructed the jury that it could find in favor of the plaintiff only if he proved that discrimination was the “sole reason” for the challenged employment decision. So instructed, the jury found against Ponce. In its order denying Ponce’s motion for a new trial, the district court explained that it had “determined that this matter was pleaded as a single-motive discrimination claim” and instructed “accordingly,” holding that Ginger v. District of Columbia, 527 F.3d 1340 (D.C. Cir. 2008), compelled this jury instruction.
NELA’s amicus brief argued that while there is some variation in wording among statutes and different courts regarding the proper causation standard, with one limited exception involving a portion of the Rehabilitation Act, “sole cause” is never the proper standard under federal anti-discrimination statutes. The brief further explains that Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), did not hold that there were two mutually exclusive means of proving an EEO claim – “single-motive” and “mixed-motives.” Nevertheless, the Ginger decision appeared to compartmentalize discrimination cases into those two discrete categories. In addition, we argued the “sole cause” standard conflicts with the “free from any discrimination” language of Section 717 of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(a), the standard governing federal employee discrimination cases under which Ponce brought suit.
Authors: Thomas W. Osborne (DC), Yuval Rubinstein (DC)