Only Circumstantial Evidence Needed to Prove Employment Discrimination, Says Top Court

In a lawsuit for employment discrimination, employees only need to provide circumstantial evidence, not direct evidence, says the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court for Massachusetts.

In a lawsuit for sexual discrimination and sexual harassment, an employee sued her employer. What was the evidence she presented to the court? Among other things, the employer used a condescending tone when referring to her as “she.” He also expressed a general disregard for her professional abilities, questioning her work while not questioning the work of male employees, even though she had earned excellent reviews.

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Circumstantial Evidence

Although there were no specific statements about her sexually, the court wrote that “we must consider the circumstantial evidence.” Stereotyping, cognitive bias, and certain other “more subtle cognitive phenomena” can skew perceptions and judgments, which falls within the ambit of the prohibition on sex discrimination, said the court. These are all admissible evidence to show discrimination.

Insinuations or Implications Still Discrimination

This decision is wise in recognizing the ways that discrimination may occur without directly discriminatory slurs. Most discrimination occurs via insinuations or implications, but is harmful nevertheless.

All types of discrimination occur this way, and are protected under the law. Circumstantial evidence may provide a basis for a lawsuit for employment discrimination based on sex, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

In Massachusetts law, employment discrimination is prohibited under Chapter 151B of the General Laws, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrimination lawsuits may be brought in federal court, state court, or the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The case is here: Burns v. Johnson

Culik Law accepts cases for employment discrimination in any form. Contact us to see if we can help.

Josef Culik

Josef Culik

Attorney Joe Culik has built his reputation on helping people and has dedicated his practice in Boston, Massachusetts to consumer protection, employee rights, and small business and franchise law.