Wrongful termination cases won in the Supreme Court continue to impact millions of employees in the U.S. However, which have arguably had the most profound impact on workplaces nationwide?

This article illustrates three of the most notable cases that were successful in the highest court in the land. These are more than mere legal disputes. These cases have reshaped employer-employee dynamics for decades.

Whether you are curious or may have a case to file, these suits are essential knowledge. Uncover how these decisions have set the bar for how to win a wrongful termination trial or settlement.

McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green

This Supreme Court case revolutionized employment law. Percy Green was an African-American employee laid off by the aerospace company McDonnell Douglas. Green argued his dismissal was due to racial discrimination instead of workforce reduction.

The challenge for this case was the creation of criteria to evaluate discrimination claims without direct evidence. The Supreme Court had the task of balancing the rights of employees against employers’ rights to make business decisions.

The eventual ruling was transformative and created the “McDonnell Douglas framework.” The claimant must have evidence that demonstrates the following:

  • Membership in a protected class
  • Qualifications for the job
  • Replacement by someone outside the protected class or different treatment during the termination

The employer must respond by presenting a valid, non-discriminatory reason for the separation. If they succeed, the burden returns to the plaintiff to show they are trying to cover for discrimination.

The ramifications of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green on employment law are profound. Its influence extends beyond racial discrimination to include gender, age, and disability discrimination. The decision could be a foundational element in any wrongful termination case in the United States.

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson

This case was one of the most significant early challenges to Title VII in American history. Mechelle Vinson sued her employer Meritor Savings Bank, and her supervisor, Sidney Taylor. She accused him of repeated sexual advances and alleged her rejection of them led to her termination.

The primary legal dispute revolved around interpreting sex discrimination in Title VII. Vinson argued that her supervisor’s actions resulted in a hostile work environment. Therefore, it should fit the definition of the milestone federal law. Conversely, the bank argued they did not endorse the behavior, and she did not follow the grievance procedures.

The Supreme Court affirmed that sexual harassment falls under the umbrella of Title VII. Consequently, a hostile work environment is a violation of federal law. Furthermore, employers can be liable for a supervisor’s actions regardless of their knowledge.

This verdict led many companies to create or update their sexual harassment policies and training. Moreover, it encouraged more employees to report harassment, altering workplace dynamics for the foreseeable future.

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins

This landmark of employment law deals with gender discrimination. Ann Hopkins was a senior manager at Price Waterhouse. Despite her commendable performance, the partners denied her a partnership for not conforming to feminine stereotypes. Hopkins started legal action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Hopkins encountered several hurdles in the lower courts. Initially, a district court ruled in her favor. However, this decision was overturned on appeal, propelling the case to the Supreme Court. The challenge was to prove that gender discrimination was a critical factor in the partnership decision.

The Supreme Court included the “mixed-motive” concept in its ruling for Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins. It recognized there could have been legitimate and illegitimate reasons in this scenario. If an employee could demonstrate that gender was a factor, employers must prove they would have made the same decision regardless.

Consequently, this development in the burden of proof was a significant advancement in wrongful termination law. It also prompted employers to critically reassess their decision-making processes for implicit gender biases and stereotypes.

Consult a Local Wrongful Termination Lawyer

The Supreme Court rulings in these three landmark cases continue to have a profound impact. These decisions also highlight the intricate balance between understanding and enforcing the law. As a result, it can take savvy representation to convince the courts to rule in your favor.

We work with a network of wrongful termination attorneys ready to schedule a consultation. Explore them today by calling (866) 345-6784 or completing this form for a quick referral.

Return to the Blog

How It All Works

Call us or answer the questions on this site. Your category, location, and additional information will help us connect you to a legal professional and we’ll send you the results instantly.

Which Areas of Law?

We have attorneys in over 20 legal categories to choose from.

How Much Does This Cost?

We don’t charge you to be connected. Some legal categories require upfront fees while others do not. The legal professional will determine this with you before you commit to anything.

Secured & Trusted