California Landmark Cases on Employment Discrimination Claims

In analyzing employment discrimination claims, California courts apply the three-stage burden shifting test established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792. (Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 317, 354 (Guz).) Under that test, the plaintiff has the initial burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. "Generally, the plaintiff must provide evidence that (1) he was a member of a protected class, (2) he was qualified for the position he sought or was performing competently in the position he held, (3) he suffered an adverse employment action, . . . and (4) some other circumstance suggests discriminatory motive." (Id. at p. 355.) If the plaintiff satisfies this initial burden, a presumption of discrimination arises and "the burden shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption by producing admissible evidence, sufficient to 'raise a genuine issue of fact' and to 'justify a judgment for the employer,' that its action was taken for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." (Id. at pp. 355-356.) "If the employer sustains this burden, the presumption of discrimination disappears. . The plaintiff must then have the opportunity to attack the employer's proffered reasons as pretexts for discrimination, or to offer any other evidence of discriminatory motive. . In an appropriate case, evidence of dishonest reasons, considered together with the elements of the prima facie case, may permit a finding of prohibited bias. . The ultimate burden of persuasion on the issue of actual discrimination remains with the plaintiff. ." (Id. at p. 356.)