McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green

McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green: The Initial Decision

McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green: Clarifying Cases

In McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court explained how to prove a case of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when evidence of discrimination is circumstantial. Rarely do job seekers or employees have direct evidence of discrimination, such as policies that specifically exclude members of particular races. Recognizing this, in McDonnell Douglas the Court provided a framework for proving disparate treatment when circumstantial evidence is all that is available.

Most cases of discrimination filed under Title VII allege disparate treatment discrimination even though the law also covers policies that have a disparate impact. Disparate treatment occurs when employers treat specified job seekers, employees, or particular workers differently on the basis of impermissible factors such as race, religion, or sex. Moreover, disparate treatment is referred to as intentional discrimination, because employers knowingly treat one person, or group of persons, differently than others.

While the McDonnell Douglas Court found that a job application may have violated Title VII, the judiciary applies the same framework to other types of discriminatory treatment, including hiring, dismissal, discipline, promotion, and tenure in the educational context. Likewise, although Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, or sex, the courts employ the same framework in other federal discrimination cases, including age and disability discrimination.

Karen Miksch

See also Disparate Impact; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Griggs v. Duke Power Company; Title VII

Legal Citations

  • Griggs v. Duke Power Company, 401 U.S. 424 (1971). 
  • McDonnell Douglas Corporation v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). 
  • Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, 530 U.S. 133 (2000). 
  • St. Mary’s Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502 (1993).