Yesterday, the Sixth Circuit resuscitated the individual claim and proposed class-action of Plaintiff Kathryn Keys, an African-American female who alleged that her former employer engaged in a pattern of discrimination against African American managers and professional staff. Keys v. Humana, Inc., No. 11-5472 (6th Cir. July 2, 2012).

The district court granted a motion to dismiss, holding that the plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to plead a prima facie case of intentional discrimination, citing to the burden shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas, which is used to evaluate claims of race discrimination based on circumstantial evidence.

Finding the lower court’s holding in direct conflict with Supreme Court precedent, the Sixth Circuit clarified that the McDonnell Douglas paradigm is an evidentiary standard and not a pleading requirement. Concluding the Plaintiff tendered more than “naked assertion[s]” in her Complaint and sufficiently pled a pattern of discrimination satisfying Civil Rule 8(a), the Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded the matter.

Interestingly, this is the second time in the past week that the Court has addressed the reach of McDonnell Douglas in race discrimination cases. Last week, a deeply divided panel upheld an award to Plaintiff Clifford Litton, an African-American custodian who accused the Talawanda School District of racial discrimination and retaliation in regard to his involuntary transfer to a new school building. Litton v. Talawanda School District, Case No. 10-3559 (June 26, 2012). The anomaly behind the Court’s decision rested in the fact that the jury awarded the Plaintiff damages, finding race had been a motivating factor behind the District’s actions, but concluded that the Plaintiff had not suffered an adverse employment action. The Sixth Circuit upheld the decision, finding it “well settled” that the McDonnell Douglas prima facie analysis does not control once “the case proceed[s] to trial.” After this point, “we are no longer concerned with whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case, but instead focus on the actual question of discrimination.” Fuhr v. Sch. Dist. of City of Hazel Park, 364 F.3d 753, 757 (6th Cir. 2004).