On February 24, 2015, the HAWSCT issued an opinion (authored by Justice Pollack) in Adams v. CDM Media USA, Inc., SCWC-12-0000741, a case we designated as a writ to watch here, holding that an employer must “articulate a legitimate, nondiscrimatory reason” for an alleged discriminatory hiring practice before a court considers whether the practice was pretextual. Slip. Op. at 2.
In the underlying case, Adams brought an employment discrimination suit against CDM alleging that the company discriminated against her based on her age. The circuit court granted summary judgment on CDM’s behalf on the basis that Adams had failed to demonstrate that its actions were pretextual, and the ICA affirmed.
On cert, the HAWSCT held that the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment because “CDM did not satisfy its burden to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for declining Adams, and therefore pretext was not required to be considered by the circuit court.” Slip. Op. at 2.
In so holding the HAWSCT reiterated the settled standard that under McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) for claims of age discrimination. Slip. Op. at 25. The HAWSCT agreed with the circuit court that “Adams clearly established prima facie case of discrimination” (Id. at 24), therefore, the burden shifted to CDM to establish a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason that it did not hire Adams. Id. at 28. According to the court, the qualification of the applicant for the position is the sole test in determining whether an employer has met its burden: “the nondiscriminatory reason articulated by the employer for the adverse employment action must be related to the ability of the individual to perform the work in question.” Id. at 48.
The HAWSCT then held that the reasons given by CDM were not legitimate. The court rejected the proposition that any reason given by the employer must be taken as true without examination of the reason. Rather, the reason provided must be examined for legitimacy. Without such examination, the law “would place Hawaii employees eligible for protection because of race, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, ancestry, disability, marital status, or status as a victim of domestic violence at a significant disadvantage.” Slip. Op. at 58. Because CDM did not give a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason its action, the circuit court never should have considered the issue of pretext.
The HAWSCT’s full opinion is available here.
A concurring and dissenting opinion issued by Chief Justice Recktenwald (and joined by Justice Nakayama) is available here.