Proving Unfair Treatment Is Easy . . . But Only Gets You So Far

Many people come to me for advice after being treated unfairly in the workplace. Some have been passed over for promotions in favor of less-qualified people, some have been denied raises or bonuses they deserved, others have been harassed by managers or coworkers to the point that they have to take a medical leave or even quit their job because of the stress. I sympathize. We go to work each day to put bread on the table, pay our bills, and support our families the best we can. We treat our employers with respect and expect to be treated with respect in return.

However, just because you have been treated unfairly in the workplace does not mean your employer has done something unlawful. This is because we live in a country of “at-will” employment, meaning that we serve at the pleasure of our employers and can be terminated for any reason, at any time. Short of termination, employers can take any number of measures adverse to the employee, including demotion, transfer, disciplinary action, and even “harassment” in the sense of poor treatment which is not related to one’s gender, race, religion, color, disability, whistleblower status, or other protected category.

It’s often quite easy to prove that someone has been treated unfairly in the workplace. An employer’s own documents, in the form of personnel files or other internal memoranda, can prove that someone was singled out and treated differently. The employee’s testimony and the testimony of his or her coworkers can corroborate the fact that unfair treatment occurred. But proving unfair treatment will only take you half the way there. To win an employment case, the employee must have evidence showing the “why:” you must show why your employer treated you differently. And the reason must be either discrimination or retaliation.

Proving that an employer had a discriminatory or retaliatory intent when it acted adversely to an employee is the fundamental challege of every employment case. There is usually no “smoking gun” evidence, for example, a racist comment captured on audiotape. However, competent employment attorneys, who know where to look, can often find “indirect evidence” of discrimination or retaliation. Indirect evidence takes many forms, each dependent on the facts of a particular case.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, as opposed to unfair treatment, please consult with a competent New Jersey employment attorney who knows how to turn your “indirect evidence” into a winning case and get you the justice and compensation you deserve.