Saturday, November 20, 2010

Alas, Cartoon Physics Are Not the Law in the Federal Courts!

The following links to Fuentes v. Perskie, an employment discrimination case:

Under the principle of cartoon physics, the standard laws of physics apply unless it is funnier otherwise.

In employment discrimination cases, the federal courts have basically said to employers, "Not so fast and loose with reason and common sense."

In Fuentes v. Perskie, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals stated that if an employer's stated reasons for a job action are "not worthy of credence," those reasons are, as a matter of law, pretextual in nature.  In other words, if the employer's stated reason is nonsensical (funny though it may be!) the court assumes that some other reason -- a forbidden reason -- motivated the employer's job action.  The opinion in Fuentes is an express rejection of cartoon physics as it applies to Title VII employment discrimination cases.

Here's what the court said:

"To discredit the employer's proffered reason [for the adverse employment decision], however, the plaintiff [employee] cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or competent. See Ezold, 983 F.2d at 531, 533; Villanueva v. Wellesley College, 930 F.2d 124, 131 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 116 L. Ed. 2d 143, 112 S. Ct. 181 (1991). Rather, the non-moving plaintiff must demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder could rationally find them "unworthy of credence," Ezold, 983 F.2d at 531, and hence infer "that the employer did not act for [the asserted] non-discriminatory reasons."*fn8 Josey v. John R. Hollingsworth Corp., 996 F.2d 632, 638 (3d Cir. 1993) (internal quotation omitted); see id. at 638 (holding that the proper inquiry is whether the plaintiff has proffered sufficient evidence of "inconsistencies and implausibilities in the employer's proffered reasons"); Ezold, 983 F.2d at 527 ("[A] plaintiff has the burden of casting doubt on an employer's articulated reasons for an employment decision." (internal quotations omitted)). While this standard places a difficult burden on the plaintiff, "it arises from an inherent tension between the goal of all discrimination law and our society's commitment to free decisionmaking by the private sector in economic affairs." Ezold, 983 F.2d at 531."

Basically, the court is saying, "Mr. Employer, we don't care how uproariously funny your reasons for a job termination are -- and we have to admit that your reasons (namely, that the employee was permitted to acquire an exemplary performance record for the entire three year period he was, according to you, psychotic and potentially violent), yes, your reasons are some of the most creatively humorous since the dawn of pretext -- we will not accept your reasons for a job termination if those reasons are weak, implausible, inconsistent,  incoherent, or contradictory."  So much for cartoon physics in the Third Circuit!  Not a very funny bunch in the Third Circuit, I must say.

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