Following are a few reminders from the Massachusetts Appeals Court in an employment discrimination case, Scarlett v. City of Boston, out last week on how a case should be analyzed at summary judgment, particularly where the employer's reasons given for the termination are demonstrated to be false.
Summary judgment is a critical stage in any civil case. If a judge grants an employer's motion for summary judgment, it has the effect of dismissing those claims.
"An employer seeking summary judgment in a discrimination case faces a high burden because 'the question of the employer's state of mind (discriminatory motive) is elusive and rarely is established by other than circumstantial evidence.'"
"[E]vidence that a reduction in force has a disproportionate impact on members of a protected class sometimes may help establish a prima facie case of discrimination...."
"[W]e are guided by the Supreme Judicial Court's admonition in Sullivan that the plaintiff's burden at this [initial] stage is 'meant to be a small showing that is easily made'... '[t]he fact that [an employer] retained all women nursing supervisors and discharged the only man is sufficient, by itself, to raise a reasonable inference that the hospital selected the man for discharge because of his sex.'"
"Massachusetts is a pretext only jurisdiction....Thus, at this third stage, the employee need only present evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that the rationales advanced by the employer at the second stage were not the real reasons for the adverse employment action...."
The above are just a few snippets of the opinion. They do not break new ground, but they do see a Massachusetts appellate court rearticulating what are some important frameworks in analyzing evidence in employment discrimination cases.
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