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Your Employee Matters


By June 1, 2010No Comments

The Federal Fifth Circuit Court has held that a plaintiff could use a “mixed motive” theory in a retaliation case under Title VII. In Smith v. Xerox, the employee won a jury verdict against the company for her claim that she was fired for filing an EEOC charge. The employee was disciplined for her failure to meet sales goals and placed on a performance improvement plan. Before the time under the plan expired, she filed a charge of discrimination. The company began the process of termination seven days later. At trial, the jury was given a mixed motives instruction, and found that the company was motivated to terminate her in part by the EEOC charge. The jury awarded the plaintiff both compensatory and punitive damages. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, reasoned that the mixed motive instruction was proper. A plaintiff can show that an adverse action was because of an impermissible factor by showing that factor to be a “motivating” or “substantial” factor in the employer’s decision. In this instance, the plaintiff met her burden of proof, and it was the company’s burden to show that it would have taken the same action even if she had not filed a charge. Xerox did not meet its burden.