The plaintiff argued that he should not be required to demonstrate in his prima facie case that he met the employer's legitimate job expectations. According to the plaintiff, he should only be required to prove that he was "qualified" for the job. He argued that inquiring whether the employee met his employer’s legitimate job expectations improperly collapses the second stage of the McDonnell Douglas framework, where the employer brings forth its legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination, into the prima facie case.
The court rejected this argument, holding that "considering an employer’s legitimate expectations comports with the purpose of requiring the establishment of a prima facie case — to screen out those cases whose facts give rise to an inference of nondiscrimination, in other words, to eliminate the most common, nondiscriminatory reasons for the employer’s conduct." The Court ruled that "we find no impermeable barrier that prevents the employer’s use of such evidence at different stages
of the McDonnell Douglas framework."
The Court disagreed with the holding of Cline v. Catholic Diocese of Toledo, 206 F.3d 651 (6th Cir. 2000), which held that, "when assessing whether a plaintiff has met her employer’s legitimate expectations at the prima facie stage of a termination case, a court must examine plaintiff’s evidence independent of the nondiscriminatory reason ‘produced’ by the defense as its reason for terminating plaintiff." Id. at 660-61. The Court explained that
[B]ecause a plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that he met the employer’s legitimate job expectations to prove his prima facie case, the employer may counter with evidence defining the expectations as well as evidence that the employee was not meeting those expectations. To require otherwise would turn the plaintiff’s burden at the prima facie stage into a mere burden of production, making it "difficult to imagine a case where an employee could not satisfy the ‘qualified’ [or legitimate expectation] element as defined in Cline.
Regarding the mixed motive approach, the employee produced evidence of an age-related comment in the workplace, but was unable to present evidence showing the comment "was more than an isolated event or that it had any nexus with the decision to terminate him." He produced circumstantial evidence that his supervisor purposefully rigged a performance audit that he originally passed so that it would instead show that he failed. But, the court found that "[t]his evidence ... does not create any inference that age was a motivating factor in Warch’s termination. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the other well-documented performance problems Warch encountered were somehow linked to the failed audit score." The court also found fault with statistical evidence advanced by the plaintiff, and considered it to be non-probative circumstantial evidence of discriminatory animus.