How Do You Prove Discrimination as a Federal Employee?

May 10, 2023
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

As a federal employee, you have the right to a workplace free of discrimination. Unfortunately, even federal employers violate the law. Discrimination remains a significant concern for many federal employees—and for those who fall victim, taking legal action is essential for holding their departments, offices and agencies accountable.

But, holding a federal employer accountable for discrimination requires proof. If it’s just your word against the government’s, you don’t stand much of a chance. This is true regardless of the facts at hand. Fortunately, proof will be available in many cases, and establishing employees’ legal rights is a matter of collecting this proof and presenting it effectively.

So, how do you prove discrimination as a federal employee?

Evidence of discrimination can take many different forms. While federal employees will be able to present direct evidence of discrimination in some cases, circumstantial evidence can also be used to establish a claim under Title VII and the other anti-discrimination laws that protect federal employees. The evidence that is available in any particular case will depend on the specific facts involved, and, generally speaking, the sooner federal employees take action, the greater their chances will be of collecting the evidence needed to prove what happened.

Direct Evidence of Federal Employment Discrimination

Direct evidence is anything that provides explicit proof of a discriminatory act or adverse employment action. Thanks to modern technology, direct evidence of discrimination in the federal employment sector is becoming increasingly common. With that said, cases in which direct evidence of discrimination is available remain relatively infrequent, as individuals who engage in discriminatory conduct will often take care to avoid putting anything in writing.

But many people aren’t as smart as they think they are. People make mistakes, and in some cases, they may not realize that a message will be stored permanently or that their actions are being recorded. So, regardless of the facts at hand, it is always worth investigating to determine if direct evidence is available. If direct evidence is available, this evidence can serve as strong proof of discrimination, and even a single stored message or recording can be enough to establish a claim for damages.

What are some examples of direct evidence of federal employment discrimination? Direct evidence of discrimination could include:

  • Direct messages on platforms such as Zoom and Slack discussing an employee’s race, sex or other protected characteristic
  • Emails between department managers and supervisors discussing adverse employment action in relation to an employee’s protected characteristic
  • Recorded statements indicating that an employment-related decision is based on an employee’s or job applicant’s protected characteristic
  • Written employment policies that call for disparate treatment of similarly situated federal employees or job applicants based on one or more protected characteristics

Federal employees who experience discrimination may not have access to these forms of direct evidence initially—and they may not even know for certain whether these forms of direct evidence exist. But, federal employees who have discrimination claims are entitled to obtain access to these forms of evidence through the claims process. When you hire a lawyer to represent you, your lawyer can file your claim on your behalf, and then your lawyer can work to obtain any and all direct evidence of discrimination that is available.

Circumstantial Evidence of Federal Employment Discrimination

If direct evidence is not available, it may be possible to prove a federal employment discrimination claim through the use of circumstantial evidence. Even when there is no “smoking gun,” it will often be possible to establish a discrimination claim by showing that the circumstances surrounding an adverse employment action create an inference that the action was discriminatory in nature.  

Like direct evidence, circumstantial evidence can take a variety of different forms. Some examples of circumstantial evidence that an experienced federal employment lawyer may be able to use to prove your discrimination claim include:

  • After you were denied a job opportunity, the opportunity was offered to another worker with similar qualifications who is not a member of your protected class
  • You were denied a job opportunity despite having the necessary qualifications, and the opportunity remained open after the denial
  • You received unjustified negative performance reviews that provided a pretext for the government’s adverse employment action
  • A disproportionately low number of workers in your protected class have received the opportunity or benefit which you were denied

In some cases, it will be possible to use both direct and circumstantial evidence to establish a federal employment discrimination claim. Again, the evidence that is available in your case will depend on the specific circumstances involved, and engaging an attorney promptly is the best way to ensure that you are able to present as much evidence as possible.

How Do You Collect Evidence of Employment Discrimination in the Federal Sector?

While it is important to take action promptly when you fall victim to discrimination, federal employees need to be very careful about collecting evidence on their own. Accessing government resources without authorization or removing federal records from government premises can get federal employees into trouble in some circumstances.

With this in mind, before you do anything that could lead to problems with the government, you should hire an attorney to give you advice and take action on your behalf. Your attorney can explain what you need to do, what you need to avoid doing, and how you can help your lawyer prove your legal rights. By making smart decisions, not only can you protect yourself, but you can also maximize your chances of recovering the financial compensation you deserve.

Discuss Your Discrimination Claim with Attorney Jay W. Stafford and His Team

Do you have questions about filing a discrimination claim as a federal employee? If so, you are not alone, and we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. To discuss your situation with federal employment attorney Jay W. Stafford and his team in confidence as soon as possible, give us a call at 410-709-7338 or tell us how we can reach you online today.