Victims of discrimination will almost never obtain direct evidence of discrimination. Usually, they’ll have to rely on circumstantial evidence. Proving a case with circumstantial evidence can be more challenging. But the good news is that Illinois courts regularly accept circumstantial evidence in Illinois discrimination cases. This blog post will take a look at circumstantial evidence in the context of a real court case.
Rudin v. Lincoln Land Community College is a 2005 case in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that dealt with the issue of circumstantial evidence in Illinois discrimination cases. The plaintiff was a former employee, Dr. Carl Rudin, who alleged he was a victim of age discrimination while he was employed at Lincoln Land Community College.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Rudin was a tenured professor at Lincoln Land Community College, where he had been employed for over 20 years. In 1998, the college hired a new president, Dr. Vivian L. Lord. According to Dr. Rudin, Dr. Lord began discriminating against him because of his age. Dr. Rudin claimed that Dr. Lord made ageist comments to him, including that he was too old to understand technology and that the college needed a younger faculty.
Dr. Rudin also claimed that Dr. Lord made false accusations against him, including that he had been drinking in class and that he had been rude to a student. These accusations led to Dr. Rudin being put on a performance improvement plan, which he argued was a precursor to his termination. Dr. Rudin was eventually terminated from his position at the college in 2002.
Dr. Rudin brought a lawsuit against Lincoln Land Community College, alleging that he was subjected to age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the college, finding that Dr. Rudin had failed to produce direct evidence of discrimination and that his circumstantial evidence was insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact.
Dr. Rudin appealed the district court’s decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that his circumstantial evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact and that he should be allowed to proceed to trial.
Ruling of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision, finding that Dr. Rudin’s circumstantial evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he was subjected to age discrimination. The court explained that, in Illinois discrimination cases, a plaintiff can prove discrimination through either direct evidence or circumstantial evidence.
Direct evidence is evidence that directly proves that the employer was motivated by discriminatory intent, such as a statement by the employer that he or she is discriminating against the plaintiff because of the plaintiff’s protected characteristic (such as age).
Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, is evidence that indirectly suggests discrimination, such as the timing of the employer’s decisions or the fact that the plaintiff was replaced by someone who is younger.
The 7th Circuit found that Dr. Rudin’s circumstantial evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he was subjected to age discrimination. This evidence included Dr. Lord’s ageist comments, the false accusations made against Dr. Rudin, and the fact that he was replaced by someone who was younger.
The court held that, taken together, this evidence was sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Dr. Rudin was subjected to age discrimination and that he should be allowed to proceed to trial.
Circumstantial Evidence is Valid Evidence in Sexual Harassment Cases
What does this mean for a victim of discrimination (such as sexual harassment)? Well, this means that you don’t need direct proof of sexual harassment. For example, if your boss demands a sexual favor in exchange for a promotion, you don’t need an email that explicitly says that. What’re the chances your boss would write that in an email (very low).
Instead, you can rely on circumstantial evidence. Using the same example, you can testify that your boss asked for a sexual favor. Then, a less-qualified co-worker was promoted instead of you. That’s not direct evidence of sexual harassment at work. But it shows, circumstantially, that you faced sexual harassment.
This is positive news for victims of sexual harassment. If you’d like to know whether you can prove your discrimination case using circumstantial evidence, please contact the civil rights attorneys at Justice Legal Counsel today.