Untangling the Twombly-McDonnell Knot: The Substantive Impact of Procedural Rules in Title VII Cases
Lower courts are still sorting out the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decisions
in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, which together
heralded a heightened factual pleading standard. Though many have focused on
the impact of the new standard on plaintiffs facing significant information asymmetries,
this Note focuses on the potential substantive impact on federal civil rights
claims resulting from application of the Iqbal standard. Specifically, this Note
argues that, when strict interpretations of the evidentiary standards used in claims
based on the McDonnell Douglas framework clash with a stronger factual pleading
standard, the effects can be distortive, closing out theories of discrimination for
which there was relief before Iqbal.
Reviewing potential solutions, this Note concludes that the most significant source
of the distortion is in the evidentiary standards themselves and argues that a more
practical and less rule-oriented approach can keep the civil rights laws broad in
reach while requiring a reasonable level of factual pleading.