Injury Due to Workplace Discrimination Handled in Court of Appeals

Discrimination in the workplace is unfortunately all too common. But, how do you determine if you might be able to file a claim for workplace discrimination that resulted in a loss of job? Although this is a challenging subject that should be decided for each individual situation, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (which includes Louisiana) has come up with a general outline for discrimination cases. This outline might be helpful to determine whether you should bring a case if you feel your workplace has discriminated against you.

It is illegal for an employer to fire an employee because of the employee’s race. If race was a “contributing factor” in the loss of employment then it is illegal, even if there are other, lawful reasons for the termination of employment. There are three major steps to determine whether or not you might have a case for workplace discrimination.

First, the court will decide if the person who was allegedly discriminated against has a “prime facie” case for discrimination. That is, whether the case looks like discrimination on the surface without diving too deep into the facts. The court will base this decision on four qualifications. First, the person allegedly discriminated against must be a member of a protected class. A protected class has been defined by law as race or color, nationality, sex, or religion. However, an individual can be considered a protected class in relation to the particular situation in the workplace. Therefore, an individual can be a protected class even if that individual is not considered a minority in comparison to the general population. Second, he or she must be qualified for the position that they held. Third, he or she must have actually been terminated from employment. Lastly, he or she must have been replaced by someone from outside the protected class in which the person who allegedly discriminated against belongs. Assuming all of these qualifications are met, you can move on to step two.

Step two gives the employer the chance to state nondiscriminatory reasons why the individual should have been terminated such as poor performance or failure to appear for work. The court says that even if the employer’s facts about the situation are incorrect, as long as the incorrect facts do not have a discriminatory nature then they can still be used for justification for the termination of employment. For example, if the employer states that the individual was fired for stealing and that individual was not actually stealing, the fact that the employer had incorrect information does not take away from the fact that the reason for the firing had nothing to do with discrimination of a protected class.

Assuming that the employer does not have a discriminatory reason for the termination, then the final step is that the person who was terminated needs show intentional discrimination even though the employer states otherwise. They should show that although the employer says they were not discriminatory, there is evidence to the contrary. The alleged victim needs to show that the employer’s explanation is either false or “unworthy of credence.” For example, one could show that people who are similarly situated (perform the same duties or hold the same title) but not a member of the protected class are treated differently.

Discrimination cases are determined by a systematic process, but each case is a little different. The court’s explanation of discrimination may help you determine whether you should bring a case for discrimination. A skilled attorney can assist you in walking through this process to decide if you have a valid case.