|DESERT PALACE, INC. V. COSTA (02-679) 539 U.S. 90 (2003)
299 F.3d 838, affirmed.
[ Thomas ]
[ OConnor ]
DESERT PALACE, INC., dba CAESARS PALACE HOTEL & CASINO, PETITIONER v.
CATHARINA F. COSTA
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
[June 9, 2003]
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question before us in this case is whether a plaintiff must present direct evidence of discrimination in order to obtain a mixed-motive instruction under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (1991 Act). We hold that direct evidence is not required.
Since 1964, Title VII has made it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual , because of such individuals race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 78 Stat. 255, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e2(a)(1) (emphasis added). In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), the Court considered whether an employment decision is made because of sex in a mixed-motive case, i.e., where both legitimate and illegitimate reasons motivated the decision. The Court concluded that, under §2000e2(a)(1), an employer could avoid a finding of liability by proving that it would have made the same decision even if it had not allowed gender to play such a role. Id., at 244; see id., at 261, n. (White, J., concurring in judgment); id., at 261 (OConnor, J., concurring in judgment). The Court was divided, however, over the predicate question of when the burden of proof may be shifted to an employer to prove the affirmative defense.
Justice Brennan, writing for a plurality of four Justices, would have held that when a plaintiff proves that her gender played a motivating part in an employment decision, the defendant may avoid a finding of liability only by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have made the same decision even if it had not taken the plaintiffs gender into account. Id., at 258 (emphasis added). The plurality did not, however, suggest a limitation on the possible ways of proving that [gender] stereotyping played a motivating role in an employment decision. Id., at 251252.
Justice White and Justice OConnor both concurred in the judgment. Justice White would have held that the case was governed by Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977), and would have shifted the burden to the employer only when a plaintiff show[ed] that the unlawful motive was a substantial factor in the adverse employment action. Price Waterhouse, supra, at 259. Justice OConnor, like Justice White, would have required the plaintiff to show that an illegitimate consideration was a substantial factor in the employment decision. 490 U.S., at 276. But, under Justice OConnors view, the burden on the issue of causation would shift to the employer only where a disparate treatment plaintiff [could] show by direct evidence that an illegitimate criterion was a substantial factor in the decision. Ibid. (emphasis added).
Two years after Price Waterhouse, Congress passed the 1991 Act in large part [as] a response to a series of decisions of this Court interpreting the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1964. Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244, 250 (1994). In particular, §107 of the 1991 Act, which is at issue in this case, respond[ed] to Price Waterhouse by setting forth standards applicable in mixed motive cases in two new statutory provisions.1 511 U.S., at 251. The first establishes an alternative for proving that an unlawful employment practice has occurred:
The second provides that, with respect to
Since the passage of the 1991 Act, the Courts of Appeals have divided over whether a plaintiff must prove by direct evidence that an impermissible consideration was a motivating factor in an adverse employment action. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e2(m). Relying primarily on Justice OConnors concurrence in Price Waterhouse, a number of courts have held that direct evidence is required to establish liability under §2000e2(m). See, e.g., Mohr v. Dustrol, Inc., 306 F.3d 636, 640641 (CA8 2002); Fernandes v. Costa Bros. Masonry, Inc., 199 F.3d 572, 580 (CA1 1999); Trotter v. Board of Trustees of Univ. of Ala., 91 F.3d 1449, 14531454 (CA11 1996); Fuller v. Phipps, 67 F.3d 1137, 1142 (CA4 1995). In the decision below, however, the Ninth Circuit concluded otherwise. See infra, at 67.
Petitioner Desert Palace, Inc., dba Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino of Las Vegas, Nevada, employed respondent Catharina Costa as a warehouse worker and heavy equipment operator. Respondent was the only woman in this job and in her local Teamsters bargaining unit.
Respondent experienced a number of problems with management and her co-workers that led to an escalating series of disciplinary sanctions, including informal rebukes, a denial of privileges, and suspension. Petitioner finally terminated respondent after she was involved in a physical altercation in a warehouse elevator with fellow Teamsters member Herbert Gerber. Petitioner disciplined both employees because the facts surrounding the incident were in dispute, but Gerber, who had a clean disciplinary record, received only a 5-day suspension.
Respondent subsequently filed this lawsuit against petitioner in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, asserting claims of sex discrimination and sexual harassment under Title VII. The District Court dismissed the sexual harassment claim, but allowed the claim for sex discrimination to go to the jury. At trial, respondent presented evidence that (1) she was singled out for intense stalking
Based on this evidence, the District Court denied petitioners motion for judgment as a matter of law, and submitted the case to the jury with instructions, two of which are relevant here. First, without objection from petitioner, the District Court instructed the jury that
Second, the District Court gave the jury the following mixed-motive instruction:
is entitled to your verdict, even if you find that the
defendants conduct was also motivated by a lawful reason.
Petitioner unsuccessfully objected to this instruction, claiming that respondent had failed to adduce direct evidence that sex was a motivating factor in her dismissal or in any of the other adverse employment actions taken against her. The jury rendered a verdict for respondent, awarding backpay, compensatory damages, and punitive damages. The District Court denied petitioners renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law.
The Court of Appeals initially vacated and remanded, holding that the District Court had erred in giving the mixed-motive instruction because respondent had failed to present substantial evidence of conduct or statements by the employer directly reflecting discriminatory animus. 268 F.3d 882, 884 (CA9 2001). In addition, the panel concluded that petitioner was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the termination claim because the evidence was insufficient to prove that respondent was terminated because she was a woman. Id., at 890.
The Court of Appeals reinstated the District Courts judgment after rehearing the case en banc. 299 F.3d 838 (CA9 2002). The en banc court saw no need to decide whether Justice OConnors concurrence in Price Waterhouse controlled because it concluded that Justice OConnors references to direct evidence had been wholly abrogated by the 1991 Act. 299 F.3d, at 850. And, turning to the language of §2000e2(m), the court observed that the statute imposes no special [evidentiary] requirement and does not reference direct evidence.
We granted certiorari. 537 U.S. 1099 (2003).
This case provides us with the first opportunity to consider the effects of the 1991 Act on jury instructions in mixed-motive cases. Specifically, we must decide whether a plaintiff must present direct evidence of discrimination in order to obtain a mixed-motive instruction under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e2(m). Petitioners argument on this point proceeds in three steps: (1) Justice OConnors opinion is the holding of Price Waterhouse; (2) Justice OConnors Price Waterhouse opinion requires direct evidence of discrimination before a mixed-motive instruction can be given; and (3) the 1991 Act does nothing to abrogate that holding. Like the Court of Appeals, we see no need to address which of the opinions in Price Waterhouse is controlling: the third step of petitioners argument is flawed, primarily because it is inconsistent with the text of §2000e2(m).
Our precedents make clear that the starting point for our analysis is the statutory text. See Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253254 (1992). And where, as here, the words of the statute are unambiguous, the
Moreover, Congress explicitly defined the term demonstrates in the 1991 Act, leaving little doubt that no special evidentiary showing is required. Title VII defines the term
In addition, Title VIIs silence with respect to the type of evidence required in mixed-motive cases also suggests that we should not depart from the [c]onventional rul[e] of civil litigation [that] generally appl[ies] in Title VII cases. Ibid. That rule requires a plaintiff to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, ibid. using direct or circumstantial evidence, Postal Service Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 714, n. 3 (1983). We have often acknowledged the utility of circumstantial evidence in discrimination cases. For instance, in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133 (2000), we recognized that evidence that a defendants explanation for an employment practice is unworthy of credence is one form of circumstantial evidence that is probative of intentional discrimination. Id., at 147 (emphasis added). The reason for treating circumstantial and direct evidence alike is both clear and deep-rooted: Circumstantial evidence is not only sufficient, but may also be more certain, satisfying and persuasive than direct evidence. Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 352 U.S. 500, 508, n. 17 (1957).
The adequacy of circumstantial evidence also extends beyond civil cases; we have never questioned the sufficiency of circumstantial evidence in support of a criminal conviction, even though proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required. See Holland v. United States, 348 U.S. 121, 140 (1954) (observing that, in criminal cases, circumstantial evidence is intrinsically no different from testimonial evidence). And juries are routinely instructed that [t]he law makes no distinction between the weight or value to be given to either direct or circumstantial evidence. 1A K. OMalley, J. Grenig, & W. Lee, Federal Jury Practice and Instructions, Criminal §12.04 (5th ed. 2000); see also 4 L. Sand, J. Siffert, W. Loughlin, S. Reiss, & N. Batterman, Modern Federal Jury Instructions ¶74.01 (2002) (model instruction 742). It is not surprising, therefore, that neither petitioner nor its amici curiae can point to any other circumstance in which we have restricted a litigant to the presentation of direct evidence absent some affirmative directive in a statute. Tr. of Oral Arg. 13.
Finally, the use of the term demonstrates in other provisions of Title VII tends to show further that §2000e
2(m) does not incorporate a direct evidence requirement. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 2000e2(k)(1)(A)(i), 2000e5(g)(2)(B). For instance, §2000e5(g)(2)(B) requires an employer to demonstrat[e] that [it] would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible motivating factor in order to take advantage of the partial affirmative defense. Due to the similarity in structure between that provision and §2000e2(m), it would be logical to assume that the term demonstrates would carry the same meaning with respect to both provisions. But when pressed at oral argument about whether direct evidence is required before the partial affirmative defense can be invoked, petitioner did not agree that the defendant or the employer has any heightened standard to satisfy. Tr. of Oral Arg. 7. Absent some congressional indication to the contrary, we decline to give the same term in the same Act a different meaning depending on whether the rights of the plaintiff or the defendant are at issue. See Commissioner v. Lundy, 516 U.S. 235, 250 (1996) (The interrelationship and close proximity of these provisions of the statute presents a classic case for application of the normal rule of statutory construction that identical words used in different parts of the same act are intended to have the same meaning
For the reasons stated above, we agree with the Court of Appeals that no heightened showing is required under §2000e2(m).3
In order to obtain an instruction under §2000e2(m), a plaintiff need only present sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude, by a preponderance of the evidence, that race, color, religion, sex, or national origin was a motivating factor for any employment practice. Because direct evidence of discrimination is not required in mixed-motive cases, the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in giving a mixed-motive instruction to the jury. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is
It is so ordered.
1. This case does not require us to decide when, if ever, §107 applies outside of the mixed-motive context.
2. Title 42 U.S.C. § 2000e5(g)(2)(B) provides in full: On a claim in which an individual proves a violation under section 2000e2(m) of this title and a respondent demonstrates that the respondent would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible motivating factor, the court (i) may grant declaratory relief, injunctive relief (except as provided in clause (ii)), and attorneys fees and costs demonstrated to be directly attributable only to the pursuit of a claim under section 2000e2(m) of this title; and (ii) shall not award damages or issue an order requiring any admission, reinstatement, hiring, promotion, or payment, described in subparagraph (A).
3. Of course, in light of our conclusion that direct evidence is not required under §2000e2(m), we need not address the second question on which we granted certiorari: What are the appropriate standards for lower courts to follow in making a direct evidence determination in mixed-motive cases under Title VII? Pet. for Cert. i.