Workplace discrimination based on your protected characteristics is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and various state laws. While employers are prohibited from engaging in or allowing unlawful discrimination, this type of illegal behavior is still fairly common. Employment discrimination victims have the right to pursue compensation for their losses by filing complaints against their employers and presenting evidence of their employers’ discriminatory acts. Here is some information about how employees can prove discrimination from the attorneys at Swartz Swidler.
Understanding Employment Discrimination
Most employees in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are employed at will. This means that their employers can fire them at any time and for any lawful reason. However, there are certain situations in which an employer’s actions will fall outside the at-will doctrine, including discrimination based on an employee’s protected characteristics.
Multiple federal and state laws protect people with various characteristics from workplace discrimination. Some of the types of characteristics protected against discrimination in the workplace include the following;
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- National origin
- Genetic information
Employees can prove employment discrimination claims by presenting evidence that their employers had a discriminatory motive when taking adverse actions against them. There are three ways employees can prove their employer’s intent, including circumstantial, direct, or pattern and practice evidence.
Proving Discrimination With Circumstantial Evidence
Some evidence is circumstantial, meaning that it is presented to prove the matter asserted differentially instead of directly. The most common way that employees prove discrimination is through circumstantial evidence, and courts typically use the McDonnell Douglas framework to analyze this type of evidence.
Under this framework, the employees have the initial burden of showing that they are a member of a protected class. They must also show that they were qualified for their jobs, suffered an adverse employment action, and were replaced by someone else who was not a member of the protected class. If the employee meets the initial burden of proving these things, the burden of proof will then switch to the employer. The employer will then have the burden of presenting evidence showing it had a legitimate reason for taking the adverse employment action.
If the employer meets its burden, the employee will then need to present evidence showing that the reason given by the employer is pretextual or was combined with a discriminatory motive.
Proving Discrimination With Direct Evidence
Direct evidence involves evidence that shows the employer discriminated against the employee without needing to engage in inference. This type of evidence can include oral statements, emails, or written documents. Most employers do not engage in overt acts that provide direct evidence of their discriminatory intent. For example, it is unlikely an employer would send an email to a Black employee telling them they are being terminated because of the color of their skin. However, if that occurred, it would be direct evidence of illegal workplace discrimination.
Proving Discrimination With Pattern and Practice Evidence
Pattern and practice evidence is evidence presented to show that employers have engaged in a pattern of discriminatory behavior against members of a protected group. For example, if an employer has routinely denied promotions to women even though they were more qualified than their male peers for the positions, that type of evidence can be presented to show that the employer has a continuing pattern and practice of discriminatory actions. Pattern and practice evidence is typically used in class action lawsuits.
Elements of a Discrimination Cause of Action
Plaintiffs must prove the following elements to win a discrimination claim:
- The plaintiff is a member of a protected class.
- The plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action.
- The employer treated other employees who were not members of the protected class in a more favorable way.
- The plaintiff was fully qualified for the job.
If your claim involves disparate impact discrimination, you will also need to prove the following elements:
- The employer engaged in disparate treatment of the protected group as compared to others in the workplace.
- The disparate treatment occurred because of an employment policy or practice.
- The employer’s policy or practice was not justified by a business necessity.
- The employer could have met its needs by taking non-discriminatory measures.
Finally, you will have to prove you suffered calculable damages.
Employers aggressively defend against discrimination claims. Some of the types of defenses that employers might raise include the following:
- Employer’s motivation was the employee’s poor performance rather than the employee’s protected characteristic
- Employer’s policy was based on a business necessity
- Employee didn’t notify the employer discrimination was occurring
- Employer took proactive steps to end discrimination after being notified
An attorney can review the evidence to identify potential defenses the employer might raise.
Get Help From Swartz Swidler
Employees who have suffered illegal workplace discrimination must meet strict deadlines to file complaints. If you believe your employer discriminated against you based on your protected characteristics, you should talk to an experienced employment discrimination attorney as soon as possible. Contact the attorneys at Swartz Swidler today to request a free case evaluation by calling us at (856) 685-7420.