You can’t prove your case with conjecture.

Jones v. Sternheimer Bros., al., No. 09-2375 (4th Cir., April 22, 2010) (unpublished). The plaintiff, Jones, sued his employer and contended that his employer had denied him training because of his age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The ADEA provides a civil cause of action for employees who are discriminated against by their employers because of their age. The employer asked for summary judgment on Jones’ claim, and the district court granted the employer’s motion. Jones appealed. 

The Fourth Circuit noted that an employee may establish an ADEA discrimination claim in either of two ways. One way is to offer direct evidence that the employee’s age motivated – at least in part – the employer’s adverse decision. The second way is to use a “pretext framework” referred to in the trade as the “McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis” used in Title VII cases. (That analysis takes its name from the seminal case of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).)

The problem with Jones’ case, the Fourth Circuit held, was that “Jones entirely failed to provide any ‘evidence of conduct or statements that reflect directly the alleged discriminatory attitude and that bear directly on the contested employment decision.'” With that sort of evidence, Jones could not prove his case using the “mixed motive” analysis described above. What’s more, without at least some evidence of discriminatory attitude bearing on the employment decision, Jones would not prove his case using the “pretext framework” analysis. To understand how that works requires some explanation of the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis.

Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, Jones would have to first demonstrate by the greater weight of the evidence that:

(1) he is a member of a protected class;

(2) the defendant-employer provided training to its employees;

(3) Jones was eligible for the training; and

(4) Jones was not provided training under circumstances giving rise to an inference of discrimination.

If Jones was successful in establishing a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden would then shift to the employer to “articulate” a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its failure to adequately train Jones. In other words, the employer need not prove the reason for the action, the employer need only state the reason for the action. Once the employer articulated the reason for its action, Jones would then have to prove that the employer’s proffered explanation was pretextual, that is, not the real reason.

Jones’ case never got that far, though. The Court found that Jones failed to offer any evidence on Point Four of his prima facie case. The district court’s decision was affirmed.

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