Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stirrings on Smith v. Xerox in 5th Circuit Internecine Squabble

More than two years ago, I expressed my hopes that the 5th Circuit would undertake an en banc review of the panel decision in Smith v. Xerox, a decision that answered whether a mixed motive was available in a retaliation claim after the Supreme Court's Gross decision. See 5th Circuit En Banc Request on Smith v. Xerox, Please!   Alas, it was not to be as the case settled before there was any further review.

But this week, in another request for en banc review, a relatively rare dissent to the denial of a petition for such review proved that there are at least some judges on the Court who feel that the case was wrongly decided and wish to have the entire court revisit it.  Although in Nassar v. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (5th Cir. 7.20.12), the Court by a vote of 6 to 9 voted not to hear the case en banc, it seems possible that it was because the defendant in that case may have waived the argument. Much of the discussion was about that issue and why panel did not directly address it. At least one member of the panel, Judge Elrod, specifically said that was her basis in an unusual concurring opinion to the denial.

But it is Judge Smith's dissent to the denial of the en banc review that really caught my attention. Joined by Chief Judge Jones and Judges Jolly and Clement, Judge Smith wrote:
The panel decision in Smith should be overruled. It is an erroneous interpretation of the statute and controlling caselaw and created an unnecessary circuit split. The problems wrought by the Smith panel majority are convincingly explained in Judge Jolly’s panel dissent, to which I defer. See Smith v. Xerox Corp., 602 F.3d 320, 336-40 (5th Cir. 2010) (Jolly, J., dissenting). Unfortunately, shortly after the panel issued its majority opinion and dissent, and before a petition for en banc rehearing was filed, the parties settled. That mooted the case and deprived the en banc court of the chance to correct the error in the panel’s misapplication of Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167 (2009).
If nothing else, it would be good to see the en banc court have a case to consider where waiver was not an issue, so we could get a determination whether or not Smith really is good law, as opposed to just being the current controlling law in the 5th Circuit.

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