Employees who are considering filing an EEO complaint often wonder “Do I have a case?” or “Have I been discriminated against?”
There are some rules of thumb that you can use to determine if you have been the victim of employment discrimination. In brief, the elements that you should look at in assessing your case are harm, similarly situated employees, and justification.
Harm is the most basic element examined by employment lawyers and courts in determining whether a plaintiff has been the victim of discrimination. Generally speaking, some harm must have befallen the plaintiff as a result of the alleged discriminatory actions.
Categories of harm that might qualify for this purpose are physical harm as in the case of assault or battery; economic harm as in the case of denial of promotions or unfair discipline; or emotional harm such as verbal abuse or ridicule. Often, a victim of discrimination will have suffered harm in more than one of these categories. However, if no concrete definable harm has occurred, then it is likely that there was no discrimination.
The second element is concerned with similarly situated employees. A similarly situated employee is an employee who occupies the same, or substantially the same, position as the plaintiff. This element has two components – similarly situated employees of a different race than the plaintiff and similarly situated employees of the same protected group as the plaintiff.
In any discrimination case, it is usually necessary, or at least extremely helpful, for the plaintiff to be able to show that similarly situated employees who performed the same or similar actions as the plaintiff were treated better. On the other hand, it can be detrimental to the plaintiff’s case if similarly situated employees of the same protected group as the plaintiff are found to be treated better than the plaintiff. This category shows whether the factor that caused the plaintiff to be treated differently was the protected category, not actions or position in the company.
Finally, an employer seldom takes an adverse employment action against an employee without some sort of justification. Sometimes this justification is genuine, but too often it serves as a cover, or pretext for discriminatory practices. The quality of the agency’s justification for the actions that it takes is always taken into account by discrimination lawyers in deciding on the merits of discrimination claims.
The factors outlined above are not the only ones considered by employment lawyers under discrimination law, but they do provide a convenient benchmark for laymen to assess the viability of their cases before contacting an attorney.
The process for filing a complaint of discrimination depends on your employer. Federal employees follow an entirely different process than employees of state or local governments and private employers.