Advancing an employment discrimination case to trial often involves a hurdle known as summary judgment, which is governed by Rule 56 of the Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure and it’s federal corollary. Employers often rely on Rule 56, typically after the close of discovery, as a final attempt to dismiss an employment discrimination case and avoid the risk of trial. This is a watershed moment in the litigation.
As the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, in considering an employer’s Motion for Summary Judgment, the employee’s evidence of discrimination “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” In Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, the Supreme Court also cautioned that a judge “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” because these are jury functions. Rather, as articulated by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Flesner v. Technical Communications, a “judge’s mere belief that the movant is more likely to prevail at trial is not a sufficient basis for granting summary judgment” in the employer’s favor and dismissing the case.