1. At First View
2. Employment Discrimination Claims

Updated November 19, 2020:

At First View

The Latin term Prima-Facie means "at first view." In legal terms, this means that evidence is sufficient to raise a presumption of fact or to establish the fact in question unless questioned. In a prima-facie lawsuit, the facts are presented as adequate enough to show that underlying conduct supports the cause of action, and will prove successful in court.

Prima facie evidence in law is sufficient to establish the fact unless questioned. For example, when buildings are set on fire by sparks emitted from a train engine passing along the road, it is prima facie evidence of negligence on the part of the train company.

Employment Discrimination Claims

Under Title VII, a plaintiff can file and support a prima-facie lawsuit related to race discrimination when the following exists:

  • (1) he or she belongs to a racial minority;
  • (2) he or she applied and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applicants;
  • (3) he or she was rejected for the position despite his or her qualifications; and
  • (4) the position remained open after his or her rejection, and the employer continued to seek applications from other people with similar qualifications to the plaintiff.

In Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 (1981), the Supreme Court stated that"[t]he burden of establishing a prima facie case of disparate treatment is not onerous."

After the plaintiff has established a prima facie case, the burden of production shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff's rejection. If the employer sustains the burden, the plaintiff then has the opportunity to present evidence showing that the employer's stated reason for the rejection was not valid.

A plaintiff does not have to have proof to show that "he was rejected because of his protected status." The plaintiff must only show in that "despite his qualifications, he was rejected." The two standards are quite different. In McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 (1973), it was determined that a plaintiff must raise an inference of disparate treatment to establish a prima facie case, not actual proof of such treatment. Also, in the McDonnell Douglas case, it was determined that to establish the prima facie case, the plaintiff did not have to prove that discrimination was the motivating factor in his dismissal. All he must do is raise an inference that such misconduct occurred.

A plaintiff can also establish a prima facie case by "offering evidence adequate to create an inference that an employment decision was based on a discriminatory criteria illegal under [Title VII]." A plaintiff who provides such evidence for his or her prima facie case may be able to survive summary judgment on this evidence alone.

Although "the mere existence of a prima facie case, based on the minimum evidence necessary to raise a McDonnell Douglas presumption, does not preclude summary judgment." In fact, "the plaintiff [who has established a prima facie case] needs to produce very little evidence of discriminatory motive to raise a genuine issue of fact" as to pretext.

In fact, any indication of discriminatory motive may be enough to raise a question that can only be resolved by an investigation. Once a prima facie case is established, summary judgment for the defendant will ordinarily not be appropriate on any grounds relating to the merits because the main objective of a Title VII dispute is the elusive factual question of intentional discrimination. Thus, the burden at the summary judgment stage is not great.