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Today, we look at the recent United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case Stoval v. Grazioli, No. 20-2041, 2023 WL 3116439, at *1 (3d Cir. Apr. 27, 2023). In this case, Flavia Stovall, who is African-American, worked in the New Jersey Judiciary, Camden Vicinage (“Camden Judiciary”) between December 1998 and January 2019. She asserted that she was subject to a racially hostile work environment and that she was retaliated against her based on a prior lawsuit that she filed for discrimination.

Why is it easier to prove retaliation than discrimination under Title VII?

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is generally easier for an employee to prove retaliation than employment discrimination because retaliation involves an adverse action taken by an employer in response to an employee engaging in protected activity, while discrimination requires showing that the employee was treated differently because of a protected characteristic, such as race/color, gender, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation. (Likewise age and disability discrimination are prohibited under Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) and Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)).

Protected activity includes any action taken by an employee to oppose what they reasonably believe to be unlawful discrimination or harassment. Examples of protected activity include complaining to a supervisor about discrimination, filing a formal complaint with the EEqual Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), or participating in an investigation or lawsuit related to discrimination.

To prove retaliation, an employee must show that they engaged in protected activity, they experienced an adverse employment action, and there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action. The employee does not need to prove that the underlying discrimination or harassment actually occurred, only that they had a reasonable belief that it did when the employee engaged in the protected activity.

On the other hand, to prove discrimination, an employee must show that they were treated less favorably than similarly situated employees who do not share the same protected characteristic. This can be more difficult to prove because it requires a comparison to other employees, and the employer may have a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the differential treatment.

Overall, retaliation claims may be easier to prove than discrimination claims because the causal connection between the protected activity and adverse action is often easier to establish than proving discriminatory intent. However, each case is unique, and the outcome depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

Best Racial Discrimination Attorney Blogs on Point:

What does temporal proximity mean in retaliation cases under Title VII?

Temporal proximity can be used to establish a causal link between protected activity and adverse employment action in retaliation cases under Title VII. The closer in time the protected activity and the adverse action occur, the stronger the inference of causation may be.

To prove causation through temporal proximity, an employee must show that the adverse employment action occurred soon after the protected activity. Courts have held that a time period of less than three months between the protected activity and the adverse employment action may be sufficient to establish a causal link through temporal proximity.

However, temporal proximity alone is not sufficient to prove retaliation. The employee must also show that the employer knew about the protected activity, and that the adverse action was taken in response to the protected activity. Evidence of retaliatory motive may include statements made by the employer or decision-makers suggesting that the protected activity was a factor in the adverse action, or a pattern of adverse actions taken against employees who engage in protected activity.

Courts will consider all of the evidence in a retaliation case, including temporal proximity, to determine whether the employee has established a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. While temporal proximity can be a strong piece of evidence, it is not conclusive, and other factors must also be considered to establish causation in a retaliation case under Title VII.

On the other hand, temporal proximity is not typically available to prove discrimination under Title VII.

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Did Stovall win her race discrimination claim?

No. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held:

To support disparate treatment and hostile work environment claims, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to support a plausible inference that her protected status factored into her employer’s challenged actions. See Connelly, 809 F.3d at 788; Castleberry, 863 F.3d at 263;3 Vance v. Ball State Univ., 570 U.S. 421, 424 (2013). Stovall alleged that the Supervisors disciplined her and acted in ways that caused her to feel insulted and embarrassed. Accepted as true, these incidents raise no overt or implicit suggestion that the Supervisors treated her differently because of her race.

Id. at *2. As our employment discrimination attorneys have blogged about before, simply having a mean and nasty boss is not enough to establish a hostile work environment.

Further, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that there were additional problems with Stovall’s race discrimination claims:

Where Stovall alleged that her Supervisors treated her differently than other employees, she either failed to identify relevant comparators, failed to allege differential treatment for the same conduct, or failed to show that her treatment was less favorable than that of other employees. See Mandel v. M&Q Packaging Corp., 706 F.3d 157, 170 (3d Cir. 2013) (“[T]he identification of a similarly situated individual outside of the protected class, who engaged in the same conduct but was treated more favorably, may give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.”); Monaco v. Am. Gen. Assur. Co., 359 F.3d 296, 305 (3d Cir. 2004) (a relevant comparator should share similar “job function[s], [and] level[s] of supervisory responsibility” with the plaintiff).

Id. at *2. Again, our race discrimination lawyers have discussed before, to establish disparate treatment, an employee needs to be able to point to similarly situated employees that engaged in like conduct and/or was treated differently in comparable circumstances.

Because Stovall failed to alleged this particular requirements the district court dismissed her race discrimination claims and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. This demonstrates the need to hire the best employment discrimination lawyers that you can so that your claims are properly plead and not thrown out by the Court.

Best Race Discrimination Attorney Blogs on Point:

Did Stovall win her employment retaliation claim?

Like her race discrimination case, Stovall’s retaliation claim was dismissed by the district court. However, unlike her race discrimination case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the district court and remanded the case for trial on her retaliation claims. The Court of Appeals held that Stovall properly pointed to her prior lawsuit against the employer, who was obviously aware of. The Third Circuit then held:

Stovall also sufficiently alleged adverse action and causation. According to her second amended complaint, the Camden Judiciary filed a motion to dismiss her NJLAD complaint on April 10, 2015, but on that date or on April 15 the state court permitted Stovall to produce documentary evidence of her Supervisors’ discrimination. On April 14, a Supervisor instructed Stovall’s subordinate to search Stovall’s files, which was a violation of workplace policy; on April 21, Stovall learned that a Supervisor had lodged a complaint against her, and another Supervisor questioned her in the presence of union officials; and on May 7, the Camden Judiciary suspended her without pay. The temporal proximity between significant developments in the NJLAD suit and the Supervisors’ conduct culminating in Stovall’s suspension permits an inference of causation.

Id. at *3 (footnote omitted).

And, once again, retaliation was easier to establish than employment discrimination.

Best Workplace Retaliation And Wrongful Termination Attorney Blogs on Point:

Why should I hire an employment discrimination lawyer?

There are several reasons why it is beneficial to hire a law firm that specializes in employment laws to sue for discrimination. First, employment discrimination cases can be complex and involve intricate legal procedures. A specialized employment attorney has the expertise and experience in this area of law to navigate the complexities of the legal system and ensure that your case is handled appropriately. Second, specialized employment attorneys can provide valuable guidance throughout the process of filing a discrimination lawsuit. They can help you understand your rights under federal and state anti-discrimination laws, explain the legal process and the potential outcomes, and assist you in developing a strategy to maximize your chances of success. Third, an employment lawyer can help you build a strong case by gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and analyzing legal precedents that may support your claim. They can also negotiate with the employer or their legal representation to reach a favorable settlement or advocate for you in court if necessary. Finally, employment discrimination cases can have a significant impact on your career and livelihood. A specialized employment attorney can work to protect your rights and ensure that you receive the compensation and justice you deserve for any harm or damages suffered as a result of the discrimination.

If you have reached this point and are still reading, it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical; Employment Law: Avoid Hiring The Wrong Attorney). Call our lawyers in Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.


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