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Anatomy of a federal discrimination case

Our Detroit, Michigan, employment and labor log blog has made it clear on many different occasions that many forms of discrimination, for example racial discrimination, are illegal under federal law. However, some Detroit residents might not know exactly how a lawsuit for a discrimination case is handled.

Specifically, they wonder what exactly the court will expect them to prove, since it is a rare day in which an employer comes out and admits that they treated an employee differently and for an illegal reason. Instead, employers usually do a good job of covering up a discriminatory action with a paper trail that makes the decision seem legitimate.

This why federal law employs what legal professionals commonly call burden shifting in discrimination cases. What this means is that the employee who feels he or she has suffered discrimination need only show that he or she has protection under the federal anti-discrimination laws and that there has been some sort of adverse action taken against him or her.

It then falls on the employer to show that it had some legal reason, that is, a reason which does not itself constitute unlawful discrimination, to take an action against the employee. This is why employers meticulously document personnel files before firing, suspending or demoting someone. If an employer does not have a clear explanation of why it disciplined an employee, the employee may be eligible for compensation and other relief.

Even if the employer does put forth a valid and documented reason for taking an action against an employee, the employee still has the option of presenting evidence that the employer had simply decided to use its given reason as an excuse to discriminate.

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