What is NOT Enough to Prove Retaliation Under Federal Law?

Plaintiff (in the lower court matter, later Respondent), a physician, believed that he was being discriminated against by his supervisor at University of Texas’ Soutwestern Medical Center (his employer where he held a teaching position) because of his religion and ethnic heritage.  The University had an arrangement with a hospital whereby vacant positions would be offered to the University’s faculty members.  Plaintiff/Respondent complained about the situation to his supervisor’s boss.  He then arranged to work at the hospital and resigned from his teaching post at the University.  In addition, he sent a letter to the supervisor’s boss as well as other individuals stating that he resigned because of his supervisor’s harassment.  The supervisor’s boss objected to the hospital’s job offer, and the offer was withdrawn.  Plaintiff/Respondent brought a lawsuit for retaliation, among other claims.
The Jury decided Plaintiff/Respondent’s behalf on this claim, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment.  On appeal, the United States Supreme Court disagreed with the Fifth Circuit’s affirmation.  The Fifth Circuit reasoned that the Plaintiff need only show that Plaintiff’s complaints regarding his supervisor were only a motivating factor in the retaliation against Plaintiff/Respondent.  The United States Supreme Court stated that proper standard in this case to establish retaliation was but-for causation, that is, but for the complaints, the Plaintiff/Respondent would not have been retaliated against. Thus, a showing that the Plaintiff/Respondent’s complaints were a motivating factor in the retaliation against him were not enough.