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U.S. Supreme Court Adopts Elevated Causation Standard for Title VII Retaliation Claims

This week, a divided Supreme Court held in Univ. of Texas Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar that a plaintiff advancing a retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must establish that his or her protected activity was a “but-for” cause of the employer’s alleged adverse action, and not merely that the retaliatory motive was one “motivating factor” in the decision. The opinion reverses a Fifth Circuit ruling that held that the less demanding “motivating factor” test applies to retaliation claims under Title VII 42 U.S.C. §2000e-3(a) just as it does to status-based discrimination claims under §2000e-2(a). In the wake of this holding, employers may act with somewhat greater confidence when taking carefully considered adverse employment actions in situations that seem likely to spawn future retaliation claims.

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