Employment-Sixth Circuit Case Illustrates That Close Proximity Of Firing An Employee To The Employee’s Filing A Charge Against The Employer Can Help Establish A Prima Facie Case of Retaliation Under Title VII

Establishing a prima facie case can be necessary for a plaintiff to prevail in a case of retaliation brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII” ). In Upshaw v. Ford Motor Company, No. 08-3246 (6th Circuit 2009), the Court was faced with, among other things, the question of whether the plaintiff, Carolyn Upshaw, had established a prima facie case in support of her claim that the defendant, Ford Motor Company, had retaliated against her by firing her because she had filed numerous EEOC charges and a lawsuit against it.

The Court noted that Title VII prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for filing an EEOC charge. To make out a prima facie case of retaliation, the plaintiff must establish that: (1) she engaged in Title VII-protected activity, (2) the defendant knew that she engaged in this activity, (3) the defendant subsequently took an adverse employment action against her, and (4) the adverse action was causally connected to the protected activity. Only element (4) is in question here. To establish the causal connection, the plaintiff must offer evidence sufficient to raise the inference that her protected activity was the likely reason for the adverse action. The Court said that, at the prima facie stage, the plaintiff’s burden is light. All the plaintiff must do is put forth some credible evidence that enables the Court to deduce that there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the retaliatory action.

Here, the close temporal proximity between the plaintiff’s EEOC filings, the protected activity, and her firing, the adverse action, provides sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case. Although the firing occurred almost 19 months after her initial EEOC charge, the plaintiff made two additional charges with the EEOC and filed her lawsuit against the defendant only four months before she was fired. Also, there was a close temporal proximity between the plaintiff’s first EEOC charge and certain internal requests at the defendant for disciplining the plaintiff and for information from other employees documenting the plaintiff’s complaint activity, evidencing that plaintiff’s filing an EEOC charge ultimately led to her being fired. Thus, the Court found that the plaintiff had established a prima facie case of retaliation.