JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
Respondent Louis Aikens filed suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq., claiming that the United States Postal Service discriminated against him on account of his race. Aikens, who is black, claimed that the Postal Service had discriminatorily refused to promote him to higher positions in the Washington, D. C., Post Office where he had
On remand, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its earlier holding that the District Court had erred in requiring Aikens to offer direct proof of discriminatory intent. It also held that the District Court erred in requiring Aikens to show, as part of his prima facie case, that he was "as qualified or more qualified" than the people who were promoted. 214 U. S. App. D. C. 239, 240, 241, 665 F.2d 1057, 1058, 1059 (1981) (per curiam). We granted certiorari.
The Postal Service argues that an employee who has shown only that he was black, that he applied for a promotion for which he possessed the minimum qualifications, and that the employer selected a nonminority applicant has not established a "prima facie" case of employment discrimination under Title VII. Aikens argues that he submitted sufficient evidence that the Postal Service discriminated against him to warrant a finding of a prima facie case.
By establishing a prima facie case, the plaintiff in a Title VII action creates a rebuttable "presumption that the employer unlawfully discriminated against" him. Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, supra, at 254. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). To rebut this presumption, "the defendant must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for the plaintiff's rejection." Burdine, 450 U. S., at 255. In other words, the defendant must "produc[e] evidence that the plaintiff was rejected, or someone else was preferred, for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." Id., at 254.
But when the defendant fails to persuade the district court to dismiss the action for lack of a prima facie case,
The "factual inquiry" in a Title VII case is "[whether] the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff." Burdine, supra, at 253. In other words, is "the employer. . . treating `some people less favorably than others because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.' " Furnco Construction Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 577 (1978), quoting Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 335, n. 15 (1977). The prima facie case method established in McDonnell Douglas was "never intended to be rigid, mechanized, or ritualistic. Rather, it is merely a sensible, orderly way to evaluate the evidence in light of common experience as it bears on the critical question of discrimination." Furnco, supra, at 577. Where the defendant has done everything that would be required of him if the plaintiff had properly made out a prima facie case, whether the plaintiff really did so is no longer relevant. The district court has before it all the evidence it needs to decide whether "the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff." Burdine, supra, at 253.
On the state of the record at the close of the evidence, the District Court in this case should have proceeded to this specific question directly, just as district courts decide disputed
In short, the district court must decide which party's explanation of the employer's motivation it believes.
All courts have recognized that the question facing triers of fact in discrimination cases is both sensitive and difficult. The prohibitions against discrimination contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reflect an important national policy. There will seldom be "eyewitness" testimony as to the employer's mental processes. But none of this means that trial courts or reviewing courts should treat discrimination differently from other ultimate questions of fact. Nor should they make their inquiry even more difficult by applying legal rules which were devised to govern "the basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof," Burdine, 450 U. S., at 252, in deciding this ultimate question. The law often obliges finders of fact to inquire into a person's state of mind. As Lord Justice Bowen said in treating this problem in an action for misrepresentation nearly a century ago:
The District Court erroneously thought that respondent was required to submit direct evidence of discriminatory intent, see n. 3, supra, and erroneously focused on the question of prima facie case rather than directly on the question of discrimination. Thus we cannot be certain that its findings of fact in favor of the Postal Service were not influenced by its mistaken view of the law. We accordingly vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remand the case to the District Court so that it may decide on the basis of the evidence before it whether the Postal Service discriminated against Aikens.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE MARSHALL concurs in the judgment.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion. I write to stress the fact, however, that, as I read its opinion, the Court today reaffirms the framework established by McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), for Title VII cases. Under that framework, once a Title VII plaintiff has made out a prima facie case and the defendant-employer has articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employment decision, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that the reason is pretextual, that is, it is "not the true reason for the employment decision." Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 256 (1981). As the Court's opinion today implies, ante, at 714-715, this burden "merges with the ultimate burden of persuading the court that [the plaintiff] has been the victim of intentional discrimination." 450 U. S., at 256.
This ultimate burden may be met in one of two ways. First, as the Court notes, a plaintiff may persuade the court