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How do I prove workplace discrimination?

If your employer is treating you in a discriminatory way, you may know that you have rights under federal law, which protect you against adverse action based on your race, ethnicity, gender, religion, pregnancy, age or disability. However, understanding that your employer’s behavior is illegal and proving it’s illegal are two very different matters.

How do you prove your discrimination case in court? In this post, we provide an overview of what’s necessary:

Direct evidence

In a best-case scenario, you’ll have direct evidence against your employer, which clearly demonstrates a link between the adverse action and the discriminatory rationale. For instance, if your boss sends out a company-wide memo stating that only employees are only eligible for a raise if they’re under the age of 55, this written evidence would build a solid case for age discrimination.

Unfortunately, most employers are smart enough to avoid making their discrimination so explicit. If direct evidence is unavailable, then you can build your case using circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence

Circumstantial evidence refers to clues or suggestions that would lead a jury or judge to believe there were discriminatory motives—without providing concrete proof. For instance, if you overheard your boss mention to a colleague that people over the age of 55 aren’t very productive, and then you—a 60-year-old employee—were fired shortly thereafter, you could reasonably draw the conclusion that your boss’s discriminatory beliefs impacted the adverse action.

How to prove discrimination with circumstantial evidence

Proving discrimination using circumstantial evidence is more difficult than with direct evidence. In such cases, you need to convince a jury that a discriminatory reason more than likely motivated your employer to take adverse action against you. To do that, you will first need to prove that:

  • You fall under a protected class described above (age, race, etc.).
  • You’re qualified for your job and perform according to reasonable company expectations.
  • You suffered adverse action by your employer.
  • Your boss exhibits preferential treatment towards colleagues in a similar position to you—but who do not fall under your protected class.

Once this evidence is presented, the employer will have the opportunity to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for their action against you. It is then your responsibility to prove that the reason provided is simply an excuse to cover up discriminatory motives. The goal is to cast doubt on the employer’s reason or disprove it entirely.

Discrimination can be difficult to prove. For this reason, it’s important to have an experienced employment law attorney who can effectively advocate on your behalf.

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