Prima Facie Case of Discrimination

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 What Does “Prima Facie” Mean?

The Latin term “prima facie” means “at first face” or “at first appearance” and is equivalent to the phrase “on the face of it” in modern language.

In a legal context, “prima facie” pertains to the way a claim can be established in a court of law. For example, a “prima facie case” denotes that there is sufficient evidence to support one party’s argument and render a decision in their favor, provided the opposing party cannot present evidence that refutes their claim.

What Is a “Prima Facie Case” for a Discrimination Claim?

The concept of a “prima facie case” is commonly employed in employment discrimination lawsuits. The plaintiff needs to establish their prima facie case by presenting sufficient evidence to demonstrate that their employer discriminated against them. Unless the employer can refute this claim with evidence, the plaintiff will likely succeed in the lawsuit.

To establish a prima facie case for employment discrimination, the court usually requires evidence of the following:

  1. The plaintiff belongs to a “protected group” (such as gender or race).
  2. The plaintiff was fully qualified for the position they applied for.
  3. Despite their qualifications, the plaintiff was not hired for the job.
  4. The employer continued to seek candidates with similar qualifications after rejecting the plaintiff.

Are There Different Types of Prima Facie Discrimination?

Various forms of discrimination claims can arise since it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against present or future employees based on their age, gender, race, national origin, and other specified attributes.

Therefore, a prima facie case for a discrimination claim can be founded on any of the above categories, and the evidence required may differ slightly based on the category.

For instance, to establish a prima facie case for an age discrimination claim, the employee must typically prove that they are over a particular age (usually 40 or 50 years old) and that despite possessing the necessary qualifications, a younger person was preferred for the job.

Alternatively, for a race discrimination claim, the plaintiff would need to show that they belong to a specific race and possess the required qualifications. However, someone from a different race with the same qualifications was hired instead.

The following are a few more examples of the evidence required to establish a prima facie case of discrimination for different protected characteristics:

  1. Gender Discrimination: The employee must show that they are a member of a particular gender and were subjected to adverse employment action based on their gender. For example, a female employee may show that she was paid less than her male colleagues who performed the same job and had similar qualifications.
  2. Disability Discrimination: The employee must prove that they have a disability and that their employer discriminated against them based on that disability. For example, an employee may show that they were not provided with reasonable accommodations for their disability, which resulted in them being unable to perform their job.
  3. National Origin Discrimination: The employee must show that they are a member of a particular national origin group and were subjected to adverse employment action based on that national origin. For example, an employee may show that they were passed over for a promotion in favor of someone with the same qualifications but from a different national origin group.
  4. Pregnancy Discrimination: The employee must prove that they were treated unfavorably because of their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. For example, a pregnant employee may show that they were terminated from their job after informing their employer of their pregnancy.

As shown by the above examples, the evidence required to establish the prima facie case for each type of employment discrimination claim is mostly the same, with only minor modifications (such as demonstrating age versus race).

Furthermore, there should be proof that the employer was motivated by the intention to discriminate against the specific plaintiff. Merely demonstrating that the plaintiff belongs to a particular category is insufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.

What Are Some Remedies for a Prima Facie Case of Discrimination?

Various remedies are available for a prima facie case of discrimination. For example, an employee who has suffered discrimination may receive compensation for sustained losses. This compensation may include back pay for missed wages, reinstatement to a previous job title, and recovery of employee benefits such as bonuses, vacation days, or retirement plans.

In some instances, a judge may require the employer to take additional measures to prevent future occurrences of discrimination. These remedies may involve altering or creating new policies in the employer’s handbooks or setting up procedures that allow workers to report employer misconduct, such as discrimination or sexual harassment.

What Are the Defenses for a Prima Facie Case of Discrimination?

When a plaintiff presents a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to offer a nondiscriminatory reason for their actions. The employer can raise various defenses to rebut the prima facie case of discrimination, including the following:

  1. Legitimate Business Reason: The employer can argue that they took the challenged action based on a legitimate business reason unrelated to the plaintiff’s membership in a protected class. For example, suppose the employer did not hire the plaintiff because they lacked the necessary qualifications for the job. In that case, the employer can argue that the decision was based solely on the plaintiff’s qualifications.
  2. Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ): Sometimes, an employer may be allowed to discriminate based on a protected characteristic if it is essential to the job in question. For example, an employer can refuse to hire a male actor to play the role of a female character in a movie.
  3. Seniority System: The employer may argue that the challenged action was based on a seniority system that rewards employees based on their length of service.
  4. After-Acquired Evidence: The employer may claim that they discovered evidence of the plaintiff’s wrongdoing that would have led to their termination regardless of their protected characteristic.

These defenses must be supported by evidence, and the employer bears the burden of proving their defense is valid.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help With a Prima Facie Case of Discrimination?

If you suspect that you have been subjected to workplace discrimination, it is advisable to consult with a local discrimination attorney for further guidance.

An experienced discrimination attorney can assess whether you have a prima facie case of discrimination. If the answer is affirmative, the attorney can assist you in obtaining the necessary documentation to support your claims, such as employment contracts, pay stubs, and witness statements.

In addition, if the evidence strongly supports your claim, you may be able to secure a prima facie ruling from the court, as well as corresponding legal remedies. An attorney can assist you in navigating this process and representing you in court if necessary.

LegalMatch is an online legal matching service that can help you find an experienced discrimination attorney to assist you with your prima facie case of discrimination.

To use LegalMatch, you simply need to submit a brief description of your case, and local attorneys who are experienced in discrimination law will review your case and respond to your request. You can then compare the attorneys’ qualifications, experience, and fees to select the one who is the best fit for your case.

Using LegalMatch can save you time and effort in finding a discrimination attorney. It can also help ensure that you are matched with an attorney who has experience in the specific type of discrimination claim you are pursuing.


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