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How Does a Plaintiff Prove an Employer Engaged in Discrimination when Eliminating Their Position?

Anderson Barkley LLC Dec. 13, 2022

Both the state of Colorado and the federal government have mechanisms in place to prevent discrimination against employees in the workplace. Most cases will begin by filing a complaint with either the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a local agency within the state. There needs to be some kind of concrete evidence that an employer acted for an illegitimate purpose when firing the person rather than merely making neutral changes in their workplace.

A former employee of a private school in Denver has filed a lawsuit related to wrongful termination and discrimination against Faith Christian Academy.

Teacher Fired After Discussing Racism with Students

The teacher of 12 years alleges that he was the victim of a number of acts of harassment, including being called offensive racial epithets by members of the student body who were never formally disciplined. His lawsuit in the Denver District Court alleges that these incidents created a culture of racism, which was ultimately responsible for his position being terminated.

He believes the main catalyst of his position being eliminated was the desire to host a dialogue about racism with the student body. In January 2018, he held a symposium that was influenced by his own experiences at the school, including being called racist names for being the father of a black daughter. He also alleges that there were other incidents at the school that did not involve him personally including a student writing an essay about the merits of white supremacy and another wearing a swastika to the school. He spoke about these incidents at the gathering, but received backlash from other students and faculty members, saying his actions were politically motivated and the children should not be subject to his personal feelings on the matter. The case claims that this pressure from parents and others working at the school eventually caused administrators to eliminate his position about a month after he held the symposium.

The lawsuit seeks an amount for punitive damages that was not disclosed. The school also released a statement to the media denying the teacher’s allegations, and stating that the previous complaints the teacher filed with federal and state civil rights agencies relating to the same incident resulted in no action being taken against the school.

Proving Discrimination

The main issue in filing any kind of lawsuit that alleges discrimination or wrongful termination is proving that a person’s position was eliminated due to some kind of illegal reason like discrimination based on race or retaliation for exercising protected rights, rather than a neutral, legitimate business reason such as poor job performance. Usually, an aggrieved employee must first file a complaint with a government civil rights agency, such as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD), and allow that agency time to investigate whether the employee’s allegations have any merits before the employee is able to file a private lawsuit in civil court. This process is time consuming and difficult, and thus many employees must wait several years before they can be compensated for suffering employment discrimination at the hands of their ex-employer. This is why it is important to retain an experienced employment attorney before trying to make any claims related to discrimination.

In a situation like the story presented above, there will need to be some kind of proof of motive. It is not enough to merely show that the employee falls within one of the protected classes of individuals. Some evidence showing that the employee’s discharge was caused by discriminatory and illegal motive would also be required. During the discovery process, both parties to the lawsuit will exchange a lot of information. An experienced employment law attorney will know where to focus their discovery efforts and strategize a way to use the available information to build a strong case for her client.

Evidence of Discrimination

Some direct, rather than circumstantial, evidence that may prove discrimination can include any of the following:

  • Any previous conversations or statements made by the employee’s superiors which would indicate that their superiors were not respectful of their race, gender, or other protected characteristic.

  • Evidence of a history or practice of discriminatory behavior by the employer, whether these actions resulted in lawsuits or other formal complaints or not.

  • Promotions given to certain employees and not to other equally qualified employees because of those employee’s race, gender, etc.

  • Differing treatment of employees at the same job level with the same or similar qualifications due to differences in race, religion, gender, or another protected status.

  • Documentation that contains admissions or evidence of other incriminating practices that proves the employer did actually make decisions based on protected characteristics like race.

Talk with A Local Employment Attorney

There are lawyers in the Denver area who can help with claims against an employer. Anderson Barkley, LLC are experts in handling cases for workers who feel that they have been mistreated in their place of employment.