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Eleventh Circuit Upholds Broader Title VII Standard For Federal Employees

Noris Babb worked as a clinical pharmacist at a VA hospital in Florida. Babb and several of her colleagues alleged that the VA discriminated against them based on their age and gender when determining promotions. The facts underlying Babb’s claims for discrimination are that a) the VA took away the designation that made her eligible for promotion, b) the VA denied her training opportunities and passed her over for positions, and c) when she did receive a new position, the VA reduced her holiday pay. In addition, Babb alleged the administrators made age and gender-related comments.

Babb sued the VA for discrimination based on gender, age, Title VII retaliation, and hostile work environment. After the district court and circuit court dismissed all but her gender claim, she appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court on the limited question of whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) required Babb to demonstrate that “but, for” her age, the VA would not have taken its actions. The Supreme Court held she did not. Federal employees need only show that “age discrimination plays any part in the way a decision is made.”

The Eleventh Circuit Court considered the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on Babb’s Title VII retaliation and hostile work environment claims (her Title VII gender bias claim already remained viable). After evaluating Title VII’s text regarding federal workers, which states that personnel actions “be made free from any discrimination,” the appellate court concluded that the same standard set forth by the Supreme Court in the ADEA must be applied to her Title VII retaliation claim. This decision overrules prior cases in the circuit preventing federal works from bringing “mixed-motive” cases when alleging Title VII retaliation.