A brawling casino worker helps to set a legal precedent that hurts employers.
Bias claims just got harder to defend. Until June, former workers could only win "mixed motive" cases -- those where a worker is fired on both legitimate and discriminatory grounds -- if they produced hard evidence like an incriminating e-mail. But in a case involving Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the Supreme Court affirmed that circumstantial evidence may suffice. It all began when the casino fired its only female warehouse employee for brawling with a co-worker. Caesars claimed she was a troublemaker; she argued that her bad disciplinary record was the result of management bias. Even though her lawyers presented only circumstantial evidence, the ex-worker prevailed. The Supreme Court let the judgment stand, and also ruled that plaintiffs who prove mixed-motive discrimination can win reinstatement or back pay. One out: If the employer can show that, despite its proven bias, it would have fired the plaintiff anyway, it doesn't have to rehire the worker or pay back wages -- though it must still cover court costs and legal fees.