How does a court determine whether an employee suffers discrimination?

In some cases an employee may put forth direct evidence that he or she suffered discrimination in the workplace. However, most employers do not come right out and state: We fired you or demoted you or refused to promote you because of your race or sex. In many disputed cases, the employee contends that the reason he or she was discharged was a discriminatory reason, while the employer contends that the reason was because the employee was a bad employee. The law must come up with some way to analyze the actual reason for the adverse employment action suffered by the employee.

Rather, employees must put forth circumstantial evidence of discrimination. The common method of analyzing such cases comes from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell Douglas v. Green (1973) called the McDonnell Douglas framework. The three-part framework consists of (1) the employee must establish aprima facie, or basic, case of employment discrimination; (2) the employer must then come back with a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action; and (3) the employee must then show that the employer’s stated reasons for its actions were pretexual or false.