Evidence of Employee Disqualification Is Relevant Regardless of When It Was Learned

by Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP
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In Horne v. International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Counsel, 16, Plaintiff Raymond Horne, an African American male, applied for organizer positions within the union of which he was a member on two occasions.  Defendant union hired white males in each case, and Horne sued the union, alleging that he had not been hired due to racial discrimination, in violation of Government Code section 12940, subd. (a) of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).

In discovery, it was revealed that Horne had served a prison term years earlier in connection with a conviction for possession of narcotics.  Due to his conviction, he would have been barred, under federal law, from employment as an organizer.  The trial court granted summary judgment in the union’s favor, finding that Horne was unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination because he did not show that he was qualified for the job for which he applied.

The First Appellate District affirmed.

As the Court explained, California has adopted the three-stage burden-shifting approach for trying discrimination claims. Under this approach, the plaintiff bears the initial burden to prove a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence. If he does so, then the burden shifts to the defendant to offer any legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for failing to hire him. The trial court then assesses whether the proffered reasons might be pretextual.

Before getting to the issue of the defendant’s motive, the plaintiff must first establish his prima facie case.  In order to show this, he must show that he was qualified for the position.  Here, the Court ruled, because Horne could not establish that he was qualified for the position, he could not establish a prima facie case.

Horne argued that the “after-acquired evidence doctrine” prohibited the union, and the Court, from considering evidence of disqualification made after the decision not to hire him.  As the Court explained, “the after-acquired evidence doctrine precludes consideration of evidence bearing on the employer’s motive that was unknown to the employer before the decision not to hire was made.”

Here, the Court explained, while such evidence would be inadmissible with respect to the second part of the burden-shifting analysis (i.e., employee motive), it is indeed relevant to the first part of the analysis (i.e., prima facie case):

When the issue before the trial court is not employer motive but applicant qualification, evidence that the applicant was disqualified as a matter of law at the time of the employment decision is relevant, whenever the employer acquired that information.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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