Employees harmed by discriminatory employment practices can make claims under New Jersey law seeking redress for the harm they have suffered. This may include reinstatement of a job position, back pay, attorneys fees, and more. Bringing a discrimination claim in New Jersey, however, can be difficult and complex. Here, we will go through some of the burden-shifting that can occur over the course of a discrimination claim and who has the burden of proving what.
Understanding the Shift of Burden in New Jersey Discrimination Claims
In many employment discrimination claims, there is a lack of direct evidence of the discriminatory action. There is no statement or policy in place that explicitly points to the discriminatory practice. When there is no direct evidence of an employer’s intent to discriminate, you turn to the framework established by the U.S. Supreme Court to see who will carry the burden of proof in such cases This is known as the “McDonnell Douglass framework” as it came from the Supreme Court’s ruling in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green in 1973.
The McDonnell Douglass framework usually applies under Title VII claims where the plaintiff does not have any direct evidence as to an employer’s intent to discriminate. These are claims where the plaintiff asserts that a group of employees or an employee has experienced disparate treatment in the workplace based on their membership in a protected class. Without direct evidence of discriminatory intent on the employer’s behalf, a plaintiff might use statements made by the employer or actions taken by the employer that demonstrate their discriminatory intent.
The McDonnell Douglass framework will usually come into play should the defendant seek summary judgment on the case. This is the phase of a case where the defendant tries to have the case summarily dismissed by asserting that the plaintiff lacks sufficient evidence to support their claims. There is a three-part framework established by the McDonnell Douglass case and it starts by placing the burden on the plaintiff to establish a prima facie case for unlawful discrimination.
A prima facie case is one where the plaintiff is able to provide proof that all elements of the claim have been met. So, in cases of employment discrimination, the plaintiff will need to be able to demonstrate that they are a member of a protected class. They will need to prove that they suffered adverse employment consequences based on their membership in that protected class. Should the plaintiff be able to support a prima facie case for employment discrimination, then they will have met their burden of proof and the burden would then shift to the defendant. The defendant needs to be able to prove that they had a non-discriminatory justification for taking the adverse employment action against the defendant. Lastly, should the defendant be able to meet this burden, the burden will shift again to the defendant to show that the defendant’s stated reason for the adverse employment action was merely a pretext to cover their discriminatory intent.
New Jersey Employment Law Attorneys
Yes, employment discrimination claims are tough, but the team at Castronovo & McKinney is tougher. We are here to fight for our clients who have suffered discrimination in the workplace. Contact us today.