Construction employers must do everything in their power to ensure that their workplace is safe and productive. Of equal importance is the need to make certain that employment practices are discrimination-free. In this six-part article, the Brandon construction attorneys at Cotney Construction Law are discussing effective ways employers can promote a discrimination-free workplace. In this part, we will discuss a few common legal defenses against allegations of discrimination. To catch up on this series, please read parts one, two, three, and four.
Common Legal Defenses Against Allegations of Discrimination
A Brandon construction lawyer previously discussed how a complainant that files a complaint of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the burden of proof to show that they were discriminated against. A strong defense against false allegations of discrimination is proving that one or more of the four elements of a prima facie case were false in the complaint. For example:
- The complainant is not a member of a protected class: the complainant is not considered a member of a protected group by the EEOC. For example, a 38-year-old employee may file a complaint alleging age discrimination because their employment was terminated in favor of a 21-year-old co-worker; however, this complaint is invalid as the employee is not 40 years of age or older, and is not a member of a protected group.
- The complainant is not qualified: this is a common defense. A mediocre employee may file a complaint alleging discrimination, but the truth is that they experienced an adverse employment action because they failed to meet the requirements of their position. Similarly, an applicant that files a complaint would need to prove that they were more qualified than the applicant selected for the position.
- The complainant was not subjected to an adverse employment action: the complainant must prove that they were affected negatively in some form by their employer, including termination of employment, demotion, suspension, reduced pay or benefits, reassignment of job tasks or position, or denial of training opportunities. If an employee hasn’t experienced any of these issues and never previously reported the issue, the employer hasn’t discriminated against them in any way.
- The complainant doesn’t have a valid comparator: the complainant cannot show that another employee in a similar position outside of their protected class received preferential treatment. It’s common that the complainant will refer to an employee that is not in the same position that they are in (like their supervisor or an employee in a different department), but this will not suffice. Further, if an employer can prove that a similarly situated employee outside of their protected class received a similar adverse employment action as the complainant experienced, this will strengthen the employer’s argument.
In many cases, an employee never reported that they experienced discrimination during their employment tenure. In other cases, an employee violated company policy to such a degree that they were terminated for serious misconduct. Whether the employee failed to meet the performance standards of their position or failed to provide any evidence of discrimination, there are many legal defenses against false allegations of discrimination.
To learn more about laws related to workplace discrimination, please read part six.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.