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Supreme Court makes it harder for workers to win discrimination lawsuits

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It stems from the case of Naiel Nassar, a physician and faculty member at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Nassar is of Middle Eastern heritage and complained that one of his supervisors was biased against him because of his religion and ethnic heritage.

He eventually resigned from his teaching position but arranged to keep working at the Medical Center. After resigning, Nassar sent letters to his former supervisors and colleagues stating that he was leaving because of harassment.

Angry at the letter, one of the supervisors contacted the Medical Center, which then withdrew Nassar’s job offer.

Nassar sued, accusing the supervisor of engaging in illegal retaliation tied to his earlier complaints about bias by a different supervisor.

The question in the case was whether the lower courts applied the correct standard for proving a case of illegal retaliation.

The lower courts applied a broad standard that held that Nassar could win his case as long as he could prove that retaliation was a motivating factor [among other factors] for the adverse employment action.

The jury found for Nassar, awarding him $400,000 in back pay and more than $3 million in compensatory damages. The $3 million award was later reduced to $300,000.

An appeals court upheld the lower court’s use of the broader, motivating-factor standard.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, lawyers for the Medical Center argued that the lower courts should have applied a tougher standard. They said Nassar should have been required to show that he lost his job at the Medical Center because of his supervisor’s illegal retaliation.

On Monday, the high court agreed with the Medical Center that the tougher standard is required.

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