Key Change to Mixed Motive Claims

Years ago, the Supreme Court acknowledged the existence of "mixed motive" claims of discrimination.  These are claims where although a discriminatory motive may be one reason for an employer's actions, there are other, nondiscriminatory motives at play.  For example, the evidence could show that an employee's gender played a role in an employer's decision to terminate the employee, but the employer could win the case on the theory that it had three other non-gender-related reasons for firing the employee. 

However, on February 22nd, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that in these "mixed motive" cases, if the employee can show that she or he experienced an adverse employment action (such as termination) and that a protected characteristic (such as race or religion) was a motivating factor for the decision, the case can survive summary judgment.  Because the Eleventh Circuit is the federal appellate court whose decisions are binding on Florida's district courts, this decision will have an impact on employees and employers in Florida.

In short, it is no longer sufficient for an employer to identify one or two neutral reasons for its actions to avoid a possible jury trial in a "mixed motive" case based on circumstantial evidence.  Practitioners would be wise to familiarize themselves with the decision in Quigg v. Thomas County School District et al., Case No. 14-14530 (11th Cir. Feb. 22, 2016)(available here), as it may make the difference between choosing to settle a case and proceeding with litigation.