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What is the standard for summary judgment?

To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Unfortunately some federal judges misapply the summary judgment standard in employment discrimination cases by weighing the evidence and failing to construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant.  In Tolan v. Cotton, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014), the Supreme Court articulated the summary judgment standard:

[C]ourts may not resolve genuine disputes of fact in favor of the party seeking summary judgment . . .   a “judge’s function” at summary judgment is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U. S., at 249. Summary judgment is appropriate only if “the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 56(a). In making that determination, a court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the opposing party.” Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U. S. 144, 157 (1970).

Similarly, in Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, 530 U.S. 133 (2000), the Supreme Court set forth a standard that is too often ignored by district judges:

[T]he court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence . . . “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Liberty Lobby, supra, at 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe. See Wright & Miller 299. That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that “evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.” Id., at 300.

In addition, the Supreme Court has cautioned that “summary procedures should be used sparingly . . . where motive and intent play lead roles . . . It is only when witnesses are present and subject to cross-examination that their credibility and the weight to be given their testimony can be appraised.” Pollar v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 473, 82 S.Ct. 486, 491 (1962).

For more information on summary judgment in discrimination cases, see Judge Chinn’s article Summary Judgment in Employment Discrimination Cases: A Judge’s Perspective and Professor Suja Thomas‘ book Unequal: How America’s Courts Undermine Discrimination Law.

The Employee Rights Advocacy Institute for Law and Policy has helpful resources for worker advocates seeking to vindicate workplace rights before a jury, including the following papers:

To schedule a consultation with leading discrimination lawyer Eric Bachman, call us at 202-769-1681.

Jason Zuckerman, Principal of Zuckerman Law, litigates whistleblower retaliation, qui tam, wrongful discharge, and other employment-related claims. He is rated 10 out of 10 by Avvo, was recognized by Washingtonian magazine as a “Top Whistleblower Lawyer” in 2015 and selected by his peers to be included in The Best Lawyers in America® and in SuperLawyers.