How to Prove Workplace Discrimination in California
| Read Time: 5 minutes | Discrimination

If you believe you are facing discrimination in the workplace, you are not alone. Millions of employees have suffered from workplace discrimination. Discrimination can make the work environment uncomfortable and result in unfair treatment. Discrimination can occur at all stages of work—from initial recruitment and hiring to termination. It also takes many forms and is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, you may not even realize you are experiencing discrimination at work. 

Each employee deserves to be free from workplace discrimination. Many state and federal laws are in place to protect employees from discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in the workplace. This article will outline the basics of how to prove workplace discrimination in California. 

To successfully navigate this challenging process, it is important to keep relevant documentation. Additionally, consulting a skilled and experienced Los Angeles workplace discrimination attorney can help you understand the strength of your case. An attorney can advocate for your rights and stand up against discrimination.

Understanding Workplace Discrimination

California and federal laws make it illegal for employers to discriminate against job applicants or employees. Employers cannot treat individuals unfairly because they are part of a protected class or have protected characteristics. 

California recognizes the following as protected classes or characteristics:

  • Race, 
  • Color,
  • Ancestry or national origin,
  • Religion,
  • Age,
  • Mental and physical disability,
  • Sex or gender,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Gender identity or expression,
  • Medical condition,
  • Genetic information,
  • Marital status, and
  • Military or veteran status.

Employers must base employment decisions on an individual’s qualifications, performance, and merits. They cannot make decisions based on the above characteristics. Unfair treatment or discrimination can seriously impact a person’s life and threaten their livelihood.

Common unfair treatment or adverse employment actions include:

  • Refusing to hire or promote an applicant or employee because of their protected characteristics;
  • Terminating or disciplining an employee because of their protected characteristics;
  • Refusing to accommodate an applicant’s or employee’s disability needs;
  • Implementing a policy that disproportionately affects one protected group;
  • Allowing frequent and severe harassment to happen in the workplace;
  • Giving an employee too much work or a bad schedule because of their protected traits; and
  • Favoring certain employees based on their protected characteristics instead of qualifications or abilities.

For example, not hiring a prospective applicant because they are 60 years old even though they are otherwise qualified would be discrimination based on the protected class of age. 

You may have a case if you believe your employer took an adverse employment action against you (e.g., failure to hire, demotion, or termination) because of your age, sex, race, religion, marital status, or other protected characteristic. 

Reporting Discrimination

Before you can file a lawsuit, there are a few organizations you should contact or file a complaint with. You should first report the allegations in writing to your human resource department or representative. This will put your company on notice of the potentially illegal behavior. The company can investigate the situation and work to address it. If the company fails to respond to the complaint, you can use the information later in your case. It can be evidence that the company was aware of the discriminatory behavior and did nothing to change it. 

In most cases, you must also exhaust all administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit. Administrative remedies include filing a complaint with either California’s Civil Rights Department (CRD) or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The CRD or EEOC can then investigate the issue. If these organizations investigate and find reasonable cause to believe your employer violated the law, they can try to settle the case with your employer. If the CRD or EEOC cannot find a violation or decide not to pursue further recourse, they may issue a right-to-sue letter. At that point, you can file a lawsuit. 

It is possible to skip the CRD or EEOC investigation and file a lawsuit on your own. The organizations will provide you with a right-to-sue letter without investigation. It is recommended that you take this path only if you have an attorney. Your attorney would seek an immediate right-to-sue letter from the CRD or EEOC. If you skip the initial investigations, you won’t be able to have the CRD or EEOC complete one at a later time.

Proving Workplace Discrimination

A workplace discrimination claim is a civil matter. In a civil case, the standard of proof is lower than in a criminal case. The standard is a preponderance of the evidence, which means you (or your attorney) must prove that the employer was more likely than not responsible for the discrimination.

So how do you prove discrimination at work? You must show a causal connection by demonstrating that the discriminatory action was because you are a member of a protected class. Unfortunately, proving workplace discrimination is challenging. It can be difficult to prove that the adverse action was due to your status. Employers can be very good at hiding their motives and intentions.

They might even try to prevent things from being in writing to hide the truth. For example, an employer will rarely write a letter stating that they decided to fire someone because the person is too old and that a younger employee would be better. Instead, the employer might claim that the employee’s performance is poor.

While the employer’s true intent may not be obvious, there may still be evidence to prove the discrimination. Perhaps the employer hired all younger employees afterward or was overheard calling the employee a “boomer.” There might also be evidence that the employee had all outstanding performance evaluations. Evidence like this can help prove a discriminatory motive.

You may also need to prove that you are a member of a protected class, that you meet the basic job expectations, and that the discrimination negatively affected your job.  

Types of Evidence

It is essential to gather all evidence of adverse employment actions. As soon as you suspect you may be subject to discrimination, start documenting and keeping related information.

Evidence that will be useful to gather may include:

  • Emails;
  • Letters;
  • Text messages;
  • Recordings;
  • Photos or videos;
  • Offer, promotion, or termination documentation;
  • Disciplinary forms;
  • Employment contract;
  • Calendar entries;
  • Pay stubs; and
  • Witness statements or first-hand accounts.

Evidence can be direct or circumstantial. 

Direct Evidence

Direct evidence proves discrimination without any inferences or presumptions. It directly proves a fact. This is the best way to prove discrimination if you have it. But it is often hard to come by. An example would be if you had an email from your employer explicitly stating that they are firing you because they want a more masculine workforce and you are a woman. That would be direct evidence that the employer took an adverse employment action against you because you are a woman. 

Circumstantial Evidence

Workplace discrimination cases are largely made up of circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence indirectly proves facts. For example, a relative lack of employees with your protected status could be circumstantial evidence that the company discriminates against that protected class of applicants. Other examples of circumstantial evidence include patterns of adverse actions or unequal discipline toward a specific protected group. The patterns can circumstantially show the employer has a discriminatory motive.

Compiling as much evidence as possible is important to strengthen your discrimination case. An experienced attorney can review the evidence you’ve collected to help assess whether you can prove each part of your case.

Hire King & Siegel LLP for Your Workplace Discrimination Case

Hire King & Siegel LLP if you are experiencing workplace discrimination, unfair treatment, or bias. You have the right to work in an environment free from discrimination. The talented attorneys at King & Siegel graduated from top law schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley, Stanford, and NYU. They also worked at the biggest and best law firms before joining forces at King & Siegel.

They are well-versed in state and federal laws, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Labor Code, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. King & Siegel LLP will stand with you against discrimination in your workplace. Call King & Siegel today to learn how we can help you.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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