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Evidentiary Standards in Employment Discrimination Cases Addressed in Seventh Circuit Case

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2017 | Firm News

The 7th U.S Court of Appeals recently addressed an important issue – the standard for acceptable evidence in an employment discrimination case. The 7th Circuit’s decision was issued in Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, No. 15-2574 (Aug. 19, 2016). In Ortiz, the plaintiff was a freight broker employed by Werner Enterprises. His employment was terminated in 2012 due to an allegation that he falsified business records. The plaintiff asserted that he did not engage in this conduct and actually corrected records. The plaintiff went on to claim that he was fired due to his Mexican heritage. The plaintiff cited multiple incidents where his supervisors used racial slurs to describe him to colleagues.

Evidentiary Standard Used by the Trial Court

The trial court judge, in assessing whether or not the plaintiff was subjected to discrimination, utilized both the direct method and indirect method when analyzing the evidence.

In employment discrimination cases, a judge could use the direct method, which requires evidence of obvious discrimination. For example, when the manager makes clear racist comments about the employee before terminating him. In contrast, the indirect method relies on circumstantial evidence such as terminating a Hispanic employee while only issuing a verbal warning to a Caucasian employee for the same conduct, or other questionable circumstances that create an inference of discrimination.

Seventh Circuit Emphasizes Objective Standard

On appeal, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court’s reliance on either a direct or indirect method or any specific formula as a standard for acceptable evidence. The 7th Circuit recommended that the lower court use an objective standard of evidence established in a myriad of other relevant court decisions. This objective standard focuses on whether a reasonable juror could conclude that an individual would have retained their employment if they had a different ethnic background and all other evidence remained unchanged. This standard would consider any relevant evidence to make this determination. The lower court in Ortiz did not use this objective standard. Therefore. the 7th Circuit sent the case back for further review.

Chicago Employment Lawyer Ready to Help

As you can see, litigating an employment discrimination case can get complicated with an array of different evidentiary standards that may come into play. If you or a family member suspect you were discriminated against in the workplace, take action and contact the experienced Chicago employment lawyer with Goldman & Ehrlich right away. We are here to help answer questions and address your concerns. We understand the complex array of employment laws and regulations in Chicago and want to put that knowledge and experience to work for you.