Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to the compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of an individual’s race, color or national origin. To succeed in a claim of discrimination on account of race, a plaintiff initially must show that she has suffered an adverse employment action such as termination, demotion, disparate discipline, non-promotion, or a failure to hire.
A plaintiff can carry the burden of proof through two methods. One way is to provide specific, direct evidence of discriminatory intent, such as statements or comments of an offending supervisor. In the alternative, a plaintiff may produce circumstantial evidence that supports a prima facie case of discrimination. To establish a typical prima facie case, a plaintiff must prove that:
(1) she is a member of a class protected by Title VII;
(2) she was qualified for her job and her job performance was satisfactory;
(3) in spite of her qualifications and performance, she suffered an adverse employment action; and
(4) following the adverse employment action, the position remained open to similarly qualified applicants or was filled with a person of comparable qualifications outside the protected class.
Once the employee has established a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to produce a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer produces such evidence, the burden then shifts back to the employee to prove that the employer’s offered reason is pretext and that race was the primary or motivating factor behind the adverse action. The plaintiff always bears the ultimate burden of proving that the employer intentionally discriminated against her.