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The vast majority of states, including Georgia, are "at will" employment states. This means that in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement or employment contract with the employer, an employee may be terminated for any reason, with or without cause, so long as it is not done for an unlawful reason (e.g., because of an employee's race, religion, age, sex, disability or national origin). That makes it pretty easy for an employer to terminate an employee, and proving discrimination challenging.
There are two types of evidence that can be used to prove discrimination: direct and circumstantial.
Direct evidence is the best way to show that discrimination occurred. Direct evidence of discrimination includes statements by managers or supervisors that directly relate the adverse action taken against you to your protected class status.
For example, if your employer tells you that you are being let go because you are near retirement age and the company wants to go with a younger image, you have direct evidence that your protected class status was the cause of your termination. This evidence can be in the form of verbal comments or statements written in letters, memos, or notes.
The likelihood of obtaining direct evidence of discrimination is extremely slim. Supervisors and other company personnel are too sophisticated and too well-trained by their own attorneys to openly express their biases and prejudices. In almost every case, an employee must rely on circumstantial evidence to create a presumption of discrimination.
An employee may have sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove discrimination if they are able to answer yes to several of the following questions:
- Were you treated differently than a similarly situated person who is not in your protected class?
- Did managers or supervisors regularly make rude or derogatory comments directed at your protected class status or at all members of your class and related to work? For example, "Women don't belong on a construction site" or "Older employees are set in their ways and make terrible managers."
- Are the circumstances of your treatment so unusual, egregious, unjust, or severe as to suggest discrimination?
- Does your employer have a history of showing bias toward persons in your protected class?
- Are there noticeably few employees of your protected class at your workplace?
- Have you noticed that other employees of your protected class seem to be singled out for adverse treatment or are put in dead-end jobs?
- Have you heard other employees in your protected class complain about discrimination, particularly by the supervisor or manager who took the adverse action against you?
- Are there statistics that show favoritism towards or bias against any group?
- Did your employer violate well-established company policy in the way it treated you?
- Did your employer retain less qualified, non-protected employees in the same job?
If you are terminated and believe it due to discrimination, you need to file a claim, called a "charge" within 180 days with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, at www.eeoc.gov.
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