How to Prove Workplace Discrimination

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Race, sex, religion, national origin and sexual orientation are all federally protected statuses. If you feel that your employer has discriminated against you based on one of these, you have the right to file a complaint against your employer under either the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The burden of proof will rest on you, the accuser, so knowing how to prove you were discriminated against is important.

Direct Evidence

  • Direct evidence is the most useful type of evidence to have, but also the hardest to come by. Any written statement that mentions the fact that your protected status influenced a decision regarding your job in any way, such as pay, promotions, responsibilities or dismissal, will count as direct evidence. If something to this effect was said verbally, where it was heard by not only you but a witness, also constitutes direct evidence that is admissible in court. A written dress code or business policy that includes a rule that is only applicable to a certain race can be direct evidence, as can be a job listing that excludes protected statuses from employment or an application that asks you to identify your race.

Circumstantial Evidence

  • In most discrimination cases, circumstantial evidence is not as effective as direct evidence in court. Circumstantial evidence can include personal observations of being treated differently than others or derogatory comments being made about your protected status. It can also include a lessor number of employees with your protected status in your workplace; For example, if you are the only person of color in your workplace, this would be considered circumstantial evidence that your employer may discriminate by race. If you have a protected status and someone else with less experience or education is promoted instead of you, this will also be considered circumstantial evidence.

Pretext Defense

  • In most cases, your employer or former employer will fight against circumstantial evidence by providing a seemingly legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the action that you are claiming is discriminatory. For example, if you claim that you were fired due to your protected status, your employer may claim that your work had declined over a period of time prior to you being let go. In these cases you must prove that the employer harbored true discriminatory intent in their actions by disproving their pretext. This could be done by providing copies of positive performance reviews or assessments that show your supervisors had positive things to say about your work.

How to File a Complaint

  • If you feel that you have been discriminated against and think that you can provide ample evidence, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the discrimination’s occurrence and may be made in person at an EEOC office or by letter. If you are not sure that you have what you need for a discrimination case, you can use the online assessment tool on the EEOC website. In addition to federal protection, depending on where you live, you may have discrimination protection on a state or local level as well. In these cases you can file a complaint with your closest Fair Employment Practices Agency.

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