How to prove workplace discrimination

Updated February 21, 2017

Workplace discrimination comes in many different forms. You can be discriminated against because of your age, your gender or your race. Or you may feel that you have been subjected to sexual harassment, a form of discrimination that makes your workplace feel like a hostile zone. Discrimination is prosecutable by law, but because the behaviors and actions aren't always blatant, it can be difficult to prove.

Be clear about what constitutes workplace discrimination. Discrimination is a broad word that covers a variety of acts. Employers can't make hiring, compensation or promotional decisions based on the details of a protected class, nor can they place employment-specific conditions or deny benefits based on a person's differences.

Determine whether you fall into a "protected class" of people covered by anti-discrimination laws. It is a federal violation to discriminate against people due to: race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, color, political affiliation or veteran or familial status. Though there are not federal anti-discrimination laws in place in regard to sexual orientation, many states and local jurisdiction have passed laws making it illegal.

Ask yourself whether you were treated differently than your equally qualified peers, subjected to derogatory remarks or placed in conditions which made it impossible to perform your job. Write down your answers to these questions and try to think of specific examples to support your feeling.

Look around the workplace to see whether the workforce is unusually homogeneous. This can be beneficial in proving discrimination. An employer who consistently hires employees outside of protected classes may be practicing discriminatory hiring practices.

Listen to what your coworkers have to say. Others may be experiencing the same type of discrimination or know of a former employee who was subjected to discrimination. They may be willing to work with you to prove your claim.

Gather as much direct evidence of discrimination as possible. While it's hard to prove discrimination based on subtle actions, having written statements or other evidence of discriminatory actions is concrete proof. Memos and notes of conversations are direct evidence, as are witnessed comments. For example, if a coworker hears your supervisor discouraging you from applying for a promotion because of your gender, this can be used as direct evidence.


If you are being subjected to workplace discrimination, you should try to prove it, even if you only have circumstantial evidence. After you file a claim, you will have help in investigating the circumstances and other information may be brought to light.

Things You'll Need

  • Indirect evidence (such as a written record of your personal experiences)
  • Direct evidence (such as memos or witnesses to discriminatory conversations)
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