I Was Discriminated Against. How Do I Prove It?
Your options in a Michigan workplace discrimination lawsuitBy Trevor Kupfer | Last updated on January 24, 2023
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Proving Your Case: Evidence of Discrimination
- Court, Settlement, or Alternate Resolution?
- How Much Money Will I Get?
Proving Your Case: Evidence of DiscriminationOne of the biggest misconceptions employees have about their rights is that there must be a legitimate reason for their termination. “But in Michigan, like most states, you’re presumed to be an at-will employee, meaning you can be terminated with or without cause,” McGehee notes. But discrimination is another matter, and covered under both state and federal laws. Often these cases operate on what’s known as the McDonnell Douglas framework. Named for the Supreme Court case McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, the idea is as follows. The worker, or plaintiff, must prove:
- they are among a protected group: age, race, gender, religion, weight, physical disability, etc.
- they were doing the job reasonably well
- they suffered an adverse employment decision, such as termination
- they were replaced by someone outside of the protected group
- they suffered damages
Court, Settlement, or Alternate Resolution?Michigan has court-ruled case evaluation, which mandates that disputes go before a three-person panel before any courtroom. “That panel then puts a number on the case,” Gasiorek says, “a number they believe would be a good settlement value, based on the strengths and weaknesses of both sides.” The parties then have 28 days to consider the amount. If the number is accepted, the case is settled. If it isn’t, it may be time for a trial. Less than 2 percent of cases go to trial, Gasiorek says, because the process can be slow and costly. “If an attorney goes from beginning to end on an employment case, the fees could be as high as $100,000,” he says. “So, instead, what you can do is sit down with a neutral third party to facilitate a settlement.” Alternative dispute resolution is common in employment law, he says, because it’s often faster and less costly. The neutral party works with both sides to come to a decision that all sides can agree with. Whenever he takes a discrimination case, Gasiorek writes a letter to the employer detailing what he believes to be the basis for the case. “I say, ‘If you want to talk about this, with a view towards an amicable resolution, contact me. If you don’t, and I don’t hear from you in 10 days, we’ll seek other means of legal redress.’ Nine times out of 10, I hear from somebody. And it doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes we settle right then. Oftentimes it leads to facilitation.”
How Much Money Will I Get?Clients often have an exaggerated perception of what their case is worth, Gasiorek says. Plaintiffs have the potential to claim economic losses, emotional damages, punitive damages and/or attorney costs, but often the primary factor for determining damages is lost wages. “Let’s say there’s a 50-year-old woman and we think her gender was a factor in her termination,” he says. “She has a work life of 15 or 17 years, let’s say, and she was making $60,000. If you multiply that out, it’s a million dollars plus benefits.” Sounds good, right. Sadly, it’s not that simple: “The plaintiff has a duty to make a reasonable effort to secure comparable employment,” Gasiorek continues. “And, ultimately, he or she probably will—even if it takes a year or two. So a jury will look at that, agree with the argument that she is a good employee, and give her damages for, say, two to five years.” For more information about this area, see our employment law overview for employees, as well as information on wrongful termination, sexual harassment and employment litigation, or reach out to a law firm for legal advice.
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