A plaintiff asserting a discrimination claim under Title VII must make a preliminary showing that her claims have merit. She can do so in a variety of ways, one of which is by navigating the familiar burden-shifting framework established by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).
Under that framework, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination by proving, among other things, that she was treated differently from another “similarly situated” individual. The Eleventh Circuit has long grappled with the question of just how “similarly situated” a plaintiff and her comparators must be – waffling between a standard of “nearly identical” and “same or similar.”
This confusion came to an end last week in Lewis v. City of Union City, Ga., No. 15-11362 (11th Cir. Mar. 21, 2019), when the Eleventh Circuit sitting en banc held that a plaintiff must demonstrate she and the comparators are “similarly situated in all material respects.” Although the nomenclature is new, the court’s analysis of this standard is a win for employers. As the dissenting judges proclaimed,
[t]oday, the Majority Opinion drops an anvil on the employer’s side of the balance.”