I rarely blog about the Third Circuit’s non-published opinions, but the court issued one today which readers may find interesting. The case is Young v. City of Philadelphia Police Dept.
The appeal arises from a Title VII retaliation suit brought by a woman against the Philadelphia Police. The gist of her complaint is that, after she filed a sexual-harassment complaint against a fellow police trainee, the department retaliated by commencing a campaign of disciplinary write-ups for minor violations that she’d never been punished for before her complaint.
Title VII retaliation claims proceed in 3 stages: (1) the plaintiff must make a prima facie case of retaliation, (2) the employer must provide a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its adverse employment action, and (3) the plaintiff must prove that the proffered explanation was pretextual and retaliation was the real motive. Here the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. It ruled that the plaintiff failed at the first, prima facie stage because she did not show that retaliation was the but-for cause for her discipline.
All three members of the Third Circuit panel agreed that the district court was wrong to require but-for causation at the first, prima facie stage. The majority opinion observed that the district court’s error was understandable “[b]ecause we have not stated in a precedential opinion that ‘but for’ caustion is not required at the prima facie stage of summary judgment analysis.”
The panel majority (Shwartz joined by Greenaway) affirmed anyway, ruling that the plaintiff failed to carry her burden at the the third, pretext stage. Vanaskie dissented because he believed the plaintiff’s pretext showing created a material issue of fact sufficient to survive summary judgment.
I have a few thoughts:
First, the opinion says the district court was wrong to require but-for causation at the prima facie stage, and it expressly acknowledges that no prior precedential opinion so holds. So why the heck is this opinion unpublished?
Second, the fact that there’s a dissent on the pretext issue adds a least a little to my surprise that it’s unpublished. While there’s certainly no rule that says that divided-panel opinions have to be published, they often are.
Third, the way the panel split here is interesting. I consider Vanaskie to be generally more conservative than Greenaway or Shwartz (see, for example, his recent en banc voting record), but most would consider his position here (favoring an employment-discrimination plaintiff) more liberal.
Finally, on a first read I found Vanaskie’s dissent pretty persuasive. But I’d be surprised if the votes are there for en banc rehearing.
Anyway, interesting case, and happy Friday.