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Disparate Impact Discrimination

Disparate Impact Discrimination Overview

Federal and state employment laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit intentional discrimination against people on a number of grounds, such as their race or gender

This means that a regular practice or policy may discriminate against a protected group even if the employer had no intent to discriminate. But employment practices that have no discriminatory intent yet have a disproportionately negative impact on protected classes of individuals are said to have a disparate impact and are still prohibited by law, with some important exceptions.

History of Disparate Impact Discrimination

Disparate impact discrimination is a legal theory first recognized by the courts. In addressing a Title VII discrimination case, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the burden of proof shifted to the employer once the employee (past or present) or job applicant was able to prove that a particular employment practice caused a disparate impact on their protected class.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 later amended Title VII, clarifying that once an employee establishes the existence of a disparate impact from an employment practice, the employer must then prove that such practice is "job-related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity."

Lawsuits based on the disparate impact theory often stem from layoffs, pre-employment skills testing, or other employment-related actions that impact a wide sample of similarly situated individuals. The first U.S. Supreme Court case addressing the issue involved a company's high school diploma requirement for screening labor applicants. Although the employer was not acting intentionally, this requirement excluded a substantially higher number of African-American applicants than it did Caucasians.

Proving Disparate Impact

Proving disparate impact discrimination can be difficult, especially since there is no single specific test or threshold. Therefore, each claim is decided on a case-by-case basis and may require statistical analysis and comparisons.

Age-related disparate impact discrimination cases are often even more difficult because different laws apply to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of age. Under these laws, employees can still establish age discrimination on the basis of a disparate impact, but the law provides more leniency to employers defending their practices.

Want to Learn More About Disparate Impact Discrimination? Talk to a Lawyer

Proving disparate impact discrimination in the workplace requires a keen understanding of the law and a purposeful presentation of the facts to build your case. For this reason, it's a good idea to consult with a local employment lawyer who can assist you in plotting your course towards an actionable claim.

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Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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