21 Nov Proving employment discrimination
Proving employment discrimination can be challenging. Most employers won’t openly admit to discriminating against you. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t done so. Nor does it mean you can’t prove that they did. You can still use circumstantial evidence to prove discrimination in court. Unfortunately, employers can sometimes convince a judge to throw out a lawsuit before it gets to a jury if there’s not enough evidence. So how do you prove your case to the judge when you don’t have any direct evidence of discrimination? And how do you convince a jury your employer discriminated against you when the employer can deny they did?
Proving employment discrimination through direct evidence
The first way of proving employment discrimination is through direct evidence of discriminatory animus. If your employer fired you and explicitly said it was because of your skin color, that’s direct evidence of discrimination. In this instance, proving discrimination would simply mean proving what the employer said. If you have direct evidence of discrimination, that should be enough evidence to get you to the jury. If the jury believes that evidence, you’re in a good position to win your case.
But this is not typical. Usually, the employer offers some legitimate reason for taking the action it took. This can be anything, but it common examples are performance or trying to save money on labor. Even if the reason the employer gives is obviously untrue, you still don’t have the same direct evidence of discrimination. In these cases, the employer will often file a motion asking the court to dismiss the case because there’s no evidence of discrimination. So how do you prove discrimination in such cases?
McDonald Douglas burden shifting
Fortunately, the second way to prove employment discrimination, called the McDonald Douglas test, is made for these types of cases. This Supreme Court created this test in McDonald Douglas v. Green, hence the name. The Supreme Court created this test to help analyze cases lacking direct evidence of discrimination. Here’s how it works.
Initially, the plaintiff has the burden to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the plaintiff must show (1) that she was the member of a protected class, (2) that she suffered an adverse employment action (e.g. firing, demotions, etc.), (3) that she was qualified, and (4) that similarly situated employees not within her protected class were treated more favorably.
For example, if you are an African-American who was terminated despite being qualified and performing adequately, while similarly situated non-African-Americans were not terminated, you would have a prima facie case of discrimination. This is a fairly easy standard to meet. You just need some evidence of each element.
Once the employee has established a prima facie case, the employer has the burden to offer a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Once, it does, the burdens flips back to the employee to show that the employer’s offered reason was not actually what motivated it. If you can provide some evidence that the reason the employer offers wasn’t the real reason, the judge should let your case go to the jury.
Proving discrimination to a jury
Once you get to the jury, the distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence goes away. You simply use whatever evidence you have to convince the jury that the employer took action against you for an unlawful reason. Of course, direct evidence is best. But you wont have that in most cases.
At this stage, there’s all sorts of ways to convince the jury. How you do so depends on the facts of your case. For example, say the employer insists they fired you because you were not performing well. In that case, you could use a recent positive performance review to show that’s not a credible reason. Likewise, if your boss made derogatory comments about you, that’s evidence that the employer’s decisions was based on a discriminatory motive.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you, contact the Khadder Law Firm today for a free consultation.