Proving Unlawful Motives in Employment Cases

As Des Moines employment lawyers and Des Moines wrongful termination lawyers, we receive many calls from folks who believe that their employers have wrongfully terminated them or made some sort of unlawful employment decision. It's of course illegal for employers to make decisions based on someone's race, sex, gender, nationality, age, religion, disability, or sexual orientation or in retaliation for exercising certain types of rights, such as under wage lawsovertime laws, or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But how do you prove that employment discrimination happened? You think that your employer's made a decision for an unlawful reason, but how do you establish that in court?

The best way is to have evidence of statements by people who were involved in whatever decision you're challenging that indicate that an unlawful motive was behind the decision. Such statements usually need to be by people who matter, not just some comment by a co-worker who had nothing to do with the employment action against you. And the statement you're referring to needs to be fairly clearly about the unlawful motive you suspect. For example, if you believe that you're the victim of sex discrimination, the statements that you wish to use as evidence should have some connection to your sex or at least to the sex of the group you belong to in general. Generic comments that don't necessarily incorporate your sex may not be good enough.

Another method of proving an unlawful motive is statistical evidence. This can be very basic, using just simple arithmetic, or it can be very complicated, with the use of statistical experts. If the statistics support your case, the argument can then be that, statistically speaking, the employer's decision probably shouldn't have happened in the absence of an unlawful motive. For example, in a failure-to-hire or failure-to-promote case, statistics may be used to show whether there's anything odd about a member of a certain race or sex not getting the position at issue. If the statistics indicate that the person should've have a good chance of success, that may raise questions about whether an unlawful motive was secretly driving the employer's decision making.

An employer's failure to follow internal policies or procedures is also a common method of proving an unlawful motive. Many employers have policies or procedures used for making hiring, promotion, or disciplinary decisions. An employer's failure to follow its policies or procedures for a particular employee may be an indication that an illegal motive is behind the employer's actions. 

Other frequent methods of proving an unlawful motive behind an employer's decision include: The lack of a full employer review, whether it's into the qualifications of a hiring or promotion applicant, as part of disciplining an employee, or as part of some other employment action; false reasons for employment action; changing reasons for employment action; adding to the reasons about an employment decision after an employee has complained or made a claim about it; destruction of evidence by the employer; and strong rebuttals by the employee of whatever basis the employer had for its decision. 

These are just a few examples of the methods by which you may prove that your employer made a decision for unlawful reasons. Each case is unique though and needs to be evaluated on those unique facts. You may have other evidence besides the examples above to help prove that you were the victim of unlawful discrimination or unlawful retaliation. 

Harley Erbe