How can I prove that my company is unlawfully demoting me based on race?
Eight months later, my supervisor told me that he discovered that I was being paid less than my colleagues, including the 3 Account Managers and 1 Senior Account Manager hired after me. He presented me with a new offer letter with an adjusted salary(the company is calling it a salary increase) and the job title has been demoted from Senior Account Manager to Account Manager. The offer letter does not mention that I am being demoted due to restructuring, performance or any other reason. I am the first and only African American on my team and in my department, including executive management.
3 attorney answers
First, you have a potentially easier provide claim under California's Equal Pay Act, which prohibits an employer from paying any of its employees wage rates that are less than what it pays employees of the opposite sex, or of another race, or of another ethnicity for substantially similar work, when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions. In turn, an employer may defeat an Equal Pay Act claim by proving that the wage differential is due to a bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity, but to succeed on this defense, the employer must also prove that the factor is not based on or derived from: (i) a sex-, race-, or ethnicity- based factor; (ii) job related; and (iii) consistent with a business necessity. Examples of a “bona fide factor other than sex, race, or ethnicity” include: (i) Education; (ii) Training; or (iii) Experience. In other words, you do not have to prove discriminatory intent.
As for the demotion, you still have to prove discriminatory intent in at least one of two ways: (i) direct evidence of intent - such as statements by decision makers that express animus toward a protected group such as race; and/or (ii) circumstantial evidence such as comparative treatment - here the fact that all other Senior Account Managers make more than you and some Account Managers make more than you, where they are all of another race is a good start. You also have to look at the facts on the ground, including experience, duties and responsibilities as well as performance.
You should consult with an employment attorney. Most provide free consultations.
How you prove it--if it is provable at all, is to retain an attorney or at the very least visit with one, and review the details of your situation to obtain a professional opinion as to whether it would be worth moving forward. Bring any documentary support for your suspicions to that meeting which you may have in your possession as well.
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While you may be right that these circumstances were motivated by your race, nothing in your post suggests race as the reason for the actions taken by the company other that the simple fact that you are the only African American in your part of the company. That will not be enough.
The best move right now is to locate and consult with an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible to explore your facts and determine your options. I would suggest you look either on this site in the Find a Lawyer section, or go to www.cela.org, the home page for the California Employment Lawyers Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to the representation of employees against their employers.
Most employment attorneys who practice this area of law offer a free or low cost consultation in the beginning and then, if the matter has merit and value, will usually agree to work on a contingency basis, meaning you can hire an attorney without paying any money until the matter results in a positive outcome for you. Many advance all the costs of the litigation as well. Do not let fear of fees and costs keep you from finding a good attorney.
Experienced employment law attorneys regularly are tasked with rooting out unlawful motives. Because each case can be very different it would be important to locate someone who can demonstrate a penchant for finding racial discrimination motives.
Good luck to you.
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