Sadly, employment discrimination is all too common. In our years of experience, we have seen plenty of hardworking people get mistreated by employers they trusted. If that is happening to you, it’s important to understand what’s needed to prove employment discrimination cases. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Courts won’t just take your word for it.
What to Do If You’re Being Discriminated Against At Work
The law doesn’t allow for you to go straight to the Court system and file a case against your employer. Instead, you must file an employment discrimination complaint or claim with the EEOC. You have a limited amount of time to do this. Don’t put it off if you feel you’ve been discriminated against.
Once the EEOC receives the complaint, they will look at it and make a decision. Assuming they don’t decide to pursue a case on their own, you may be able to file a case at that time. We’ll begin here after you’ve filed the complaint and while you’re preparing your case.
How to Prove Your Employment Discrimination Case
Ideally, you have been working with an employment discrimination attorney all along during the EEOC investigation process, but if not, this is where you need to have one, and these are some of the forms of proof you’ll need to be prepared with:
- Discriminating “Neutral” Policy
- Documentation & Physical Evidence
The most difficult part of proving an employment discrimination case is establishing that your employer was motivated by a desire to discriminate against you for:
In an at-will state, an employer can fire you for any reason, including the silly fact that she hates your choice of hats, and she is perfectly justified to do so. However, if that “hat” is a religious head covering, you’ve just been discriminated against, and that’s illegal.
Proving motive can be as easy as hearing your employer give a discriminatory reason for his or her actions or it may require uncovering information that proves everyone else was treated one way and you another.
Example: Imagine an employee, Sam, who practices a specific religion requiring him to pray at certain times during the day. Despite the company’s flexible schedule policy, his requests for short prayer breaks are consistently denied, while similar requests for non-religious breaks by other employees are approved. Evidence such as emails from management denying these requests specifically because of their religious nature could be used to demonstrate a motive for religious discrimination.
An employer cannot treat you differently based on the color of your skin, your sex, your disability, your illness, or your religious needs, for example. If your employer lets all of her Catholic employees go to mass on Ash Wednesday in the middle of the day but prohibits you from attending a religious service on a holy day of your faith, that’s discrimination. It doesn’t matter if she follows your religion. If she treats you in a way that she does not treat others, that is unlawful.
Example: Imagine an employee, Jordan, who wears a hijab, being excluded from client-facing roles due to “company image concerns,” while colleagues with similar qualifications but without religious headwear are promoted. This selective advancement policy underscores a clear case of inequality based on religious expression. It is important to keep a record of any such instances.
Discriminating “Neutral” Policy
Sometimes, employers have what is labeled a neutral policy. It’s not exactly a job requirement, but it may be listed as such. For instance, years ago, a fire station in a relatively rural area required job candidates to carry 75 pounds of hose on their back and run up six flights of stairs. In the area they served, there were no buildings higher than three flights, so unless they answered a call in a town over 40 minutes away, their firemen would never have to actually perform this job duty. This was found to be a discriminatory hiring practice against women since it wasn’t actually something they would need to do in the line of duty for that fire station.
Example: Imagine a tech company enforces a policy requiring all employees to be physically present in the office, citing collaboration needs. However, this policy disproportionately affects employees with disabilities who have been successfully working from home, showing no impact on their productivity or collaboration. It is important to keep a record of such policies.
Documentation & Physical Evidence
Workplace discrimination has serious consequences. It can dramatically affect employees and their families — and employers should be held accountable. Proving discrimination in the workplace is all about documentation, and there are multiple types of documentation that may be used to prove your case.
Company Policies & Employee Handbooks
When employees are first hired into a company, they are often given packets or booklets of information that describe a variety of policies, including ones that detail anti-discrimination policies. Anything that you have like this should be kept and can be utilized for your case. Some employers will not have handbooks but will post flyers in the breakroom regarding their policies against workplace discrimination. If possible, obtain a copy of that for your records.
An employment record will need to be made if you file a case. Personnel files contain key information such as performance reviews and any potential disciplinary reports. If you are unable to obtain your personnel file, an employee rights lawyer will obtain a copy of your file on your behalf. Also, if you have any personal copies of any work-related documents at home – save them.
The types of physical evidence that can act to prove harassment or discrimination can vary. This may include things like offensive physical pictures (or pictures sent to you via text, email, or social media). For example, this is not an uncommon tactic for people who sexually harass their employees. Other types of physical evidence could be offensive handwritten notes, jokes, or comments. If you have received offensive emails or other types of virtual communications, make sure to save those too.
Personal Journals or Diaries
It is not uncommon for employees to keep personal records of unwanted and unlawful behavior at work. Know that if you are currently experiencing harassment, you have the right to say no. If it is still ongoing, document everything and speak to an attorney as soon as possible. Record everything in a personal journal or diary with as much detail as possible – dates, times, what happened, who it was, and any further details. If you do not have a personal journal or diary of the events that took place, that does not mean you do not have a case. You may have more evidence to prove discrimination in the workplace than you think.
Medical and Mental Health Records
If enduring discrimination in the workplace has inflicted personal harm to you, whether physical or emotional, and you have needed to seek help, these records could prove valuable to your case. For example, if you began having high blood pressure after the discrimination took place, this would be important to document in your case. Additionally, if the stress of harassment or discrimination in the workplace has affected your personal mental health and you have sought out help from a counselor or other professional, these records could also prove to be important.
Do you believe there were any witnesses to the harassment or discrimination? If so, your employee rights attorney could find their contact information very helpful. A note: consulting with your attorney prior to approaching potential witnesses, if that has not already occurred, is a good idea due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Training Records and Evaluations
Documentation of training sessions, workshops, and any professional development activities can serve as vital evidence. Records showing you attended anti-discrimination training, along with evaluations that highlight your understanding and compliance with workplace policies, can support claims that you were proactive about fostering an inclusive environment. Conversely, if an employer fails to provide such training or unfairly assesses your performance in these areas, it might indicate a discriminatory practice.
Emails and Internal Communications
Emails and other internal communications can be crucial for proving discrimination. This includes not only direct messages that might contain discriminatory remarks but also email chains that show you were systematically excluded from meetings, discussions, or decision-making processes relevant to your role. Documentation of any complaints made to HR or management about discriminatory practices, and the responses received, can further strengthen a case by demonstrating awareness and inaction or inappropriate action by the employer.
Working With an Attorney to Prove Your Case
There’s a lot more to employment discrimination cases than what we presented here, and that’s why if you think you’ve been discriminated against, you should talk to someone who can help you sort out the details of your experience. Contact the Florida employment discrimination attorneys at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A. today.
Please Note: At the time this article was written, the information contained within it was current based on the prevailing law at the time. Laws and precedents are subject to change, so this information may not be up to date. Always speak with a law firm regarding any legal situation to get the most current information available.