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Understanding the Standard of Proof for Workplace Discrimination

Recent major racial discrimination cases demonstrate that, unfortunately, bias is still alive and well in the modern workplace. Women, people of color, and disabled people often face an uphill battle to receive the same opportunities and pay as their colleagues. If you believe you’ve suffered from workplace discrimination because of your membership in a protected class, you should consider taking legal action. 

However, discrimination can be complicated, and it may be challenging to prove that it’s occurred. Understanding the standard of proof in employment law cases can help you build your case more effectively. Below, we break down what counts as workplace discrimination, the relevant standard of proof, and the evidence that can help you clear that bar in your case. 

How Is Workplace Discrimination Defined?

There are typically two levels of anti-discrimination laws that affect workers. Federal laws are the minimum standard to which all businesses are held, while every state has its own additional laws that may expand on federal rights. 

The most important federal laws that define employment discrimination are the following:

  • Civil Rights Act: Employers may not discriminate in employment decisions due to sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act: Employers may not discriminate against disabled workers who can perform the role’s requirements with reasonable accommodations.
  • Equal Pay Act: Companies must provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act: Companies with more than 20 workers may not discriminate against workers aged 40 or older because of their age

State laws may provide other protections as well. For example, California clarifies that gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and marital status are all protected classes

If an employer violates these laws by making employment decisions based on membership in a protected class, they discriminate against you. In that case, you have grounds to take legal action against them and pursue compensation for your losses.

What Is the Standard of Proof for Discrimination?

Employment discrimination is handled by civil courts, not criminal courts. That means your claim must meet a significantly lower standard of proof than criminal charges.

In a criminal case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is guilty of the charges “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That means that the evidence and arguments must be strong enough that no reasonable person should doubt that the crime occurred. The standard is strict because criminal charges can significantly impact someone’s entire life. 

Civil cases are more lenient, relying on “a preponderance of the evidence.” Instead of trying to prove it beyond a doubt, the plaintiff needs to provide evidence showing that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for their losses. The defendant must then provide its own evidence to demonstrate that they are not, in fact, accountable, or the case will be ruled in the plaintiff’s favor. 

How to Meet the Standard of Proof in Your Case

There are three types of evidence you can use in an employment discrimination case: direct evidence, circumstantial evidence, and a pattern of behavior. Here’s how you can collect and use this information to build a case that supports your claim. 

Get Things in Writing

Direct evidence of discrimination is rare. Most employers understand that hiring, promoting, or firing people because of their race, gender, or other protected class is illegal. However, you may be able to acquire direct evidence if you prioritize getting things in writing. Examples of direct evidence for discriminatory behaviors include:

  • Emails or letters stating that you were fired because of a disability
  • Written company policies that make it clear that the company never intends to hire people of a specific race, regardless of whether race is mentioned
  • Messages from supervisors stating that they will not hire women for specific roles

This direct evidence is invaluable for your case, but many claims succeed without it. 

Talk With Your Colleagues

Your coworkers are an excellent source for gathering indirect or circumstantial evidence. They can provide testimony that: 

  • You were qualified for your role
  • Management fabricated reasons to fire or penalize you
  • Other people were provided opportunities or promotions that were not offered to you

Coworker testimony can also help you demonstrate a pattern of discrimination without the organization. For example, if the company tends to fire people of color before white people, or if women rarely receive promotions despite equal performance, your coworkers have likely noticed and will be able to speak about it in court. 

Keep Records

Good records are invaluable indirect evidence and can help prove a discriminatory pattern of behavior. Collect documents such as past performance reviews, sales numbers, customer reviews, and anything else that demonstrates your value at your job. Keep copies of all communications from your job. In addition, write down incidents where you felt harassed, unwelcome, or belittled because you’re part of a protected class. All this information can be used to help build your claim. 

Consult With an Attorney

Employment law is a complex subject. Trying to file a discrimination case on your own can harm your chances of achieving justice. Instead, work with an experienced and knowledgeable employment law attorney. The right lawyer will help you gather evidence and meet the standard of proof for your case.

Build Your Case With The Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C.

At The Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C., we have years of experience fighting for victims of workplace discrimination. No matter how your employer may have discriminated against you, we’re prepared to advocate for you in court. We have achieved hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements for our clients, and we have the resources to take on even the largest of organizations. Learn more about how the expert employment attorneys at The Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, P.C. can help you by scheduling your free consultation today.