On February 26, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in the case of Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. __ (2002), which decided that a plaintiff in an employment discrimination case does not need to include specific facts in the initial court complaint establishing a prima facie case (that is, the first elements of discrimination claim that plaintiffs typically need to prove) of discrimination. When a prima facie case of discrimination is proven, there is an inference of discrimination. In Swierkiewicz, the Court ruled that the plaintiff need only provide a “short and plain statement of the claim” showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief in the initial court complaint. In this case, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging national origin and age discrimination. Both the trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint because it found that the plaintiff did not adequately allege a prima facie case — in other words that he did not present facts in his initial court complaint that would support an inference of discrimination.

In Swierkiewicz, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the court of appeals’ decision. In doing so, the Supreme Court stated that an employment discrimination plaintiff need only satisfy the “ordinary rules” that apply to determining whether an initial court complaint is sufficient. The court also held that requiring a plaintiff to specifically demonstrate a prima facie case in the initial court complaint is inappropriate because the prima facie standard does not apply in every employment discrimination case. The court further ruled that the court of appeals’ “heightened” pleading standard conflicts with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which provides that a complaint must include only a “short and plain statement of the claim” showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. In short, the high court held that the initial court complaint need only provide the defendant “fair notice” of the basis of the plaintiff’s claims.

** This information is provided by the attorneys at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., a law firm dedicated to the representation of federal employees worldwide. For more information on Passman & Kaplan, P.C., go to http://www.passmanandkaplan.com. **