Employees are Protected Against Workplace Discrimination
Many federal and state employment laws protect employees from discrimination based on several factors:
- National origin
- Sex (this covers the serious issue of sexual harassment)
- Age (for those over 40)
- Status as an active duty service member or veteran
In spite of these laws that are meant to prevent unequal treatment in the workplace, far too many employers still discriminate against and/or tolerate this.
Discrimination statutes and laws reach all forms of employer conduct and include:
- Recruiting practices
- Hiring decisions
- Pay levels and potential wage violations
- Working conditions
- Performance evaluations
- Employee benefits.
Employers are violating the law not just when they intend to treat an employee differently because of the his or her “protected class,” but also when they use employment practices that appear nondiscriminatory but have a significant adverse impact on that protected class. Any employment practice that is unfavorable to older, minority, female, or disabled employees or applicants must be justified as a business necessity.
For example, a job that requires considerable physical strength may rule out applicants with physical disabilities that prevent them from safely lifting 50 pounds. It does not, however, automatically rule out female applicants.
How Workplace Discrimination is Used Against Employees
Discrimination comes in many forms and may not be immediately obvious. Think of these situations:
- The company that underpays racial minority groups or groups for whom English is a second language
- Limiting advancement for people who are religious minorities
- A disabled person denied a job because the employer doesn’t want to put in accommodations required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Terminating an employee who becomes disabled but who could continue to work with accommodations
- A pregnant woman rather conveniently terminated after applying for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time
Here are fairly typical workplace events that employees may be able to act against by filing a discrimination claim:
- Wrongful Termination that seems to target employees with protected characteristics
- Retaliation against employees who oppose or report illegal discrimination
- Failure to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act
- Denying unemployment benefits
- Not getting an interview or being hired
- Being passed over for promotion
- Getting fired for no credible reason
- Lower pay than other employees in similar positions
- Suffering through offensive or demeaning jokes or conversations
- Being treated differently than others with regards to work terms or privileges
- Being physically or verbally abused on the job
Employees who believe they have been subjected to this kind of treatment have the right to notify the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and filing a discrimination complaint. Keep in mind that a federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court until the claim is first filed with the EEOC.
EEOC Workplace Discrimination Claim Process
Employees file claims to the EEOC office nearest them. There are certain timeframes and processes they must follow; this link explains how to start the EEOC process. It is strongly advisable that you consult an employment attorney before making any written complaint to the EEOC.
After reviewing a claim, the EEOC will issue a Dismissal and Notice of Rights or Notice of Right to Sue (Form 161). When it issues a right to sue, there is usually enough space for both sides to negotiate a settlement outside of court.
As an employment attorney, I evaluate employees’ claims, determining the likelihood for success, and aggressively negotiate on behalf of my clients to get the best compensation possible.
Keep in mind that there is a statute of limitations on how long you have to bring a particular claim against your employer. This usually depends on the particular violation. For example, certain employment claims have up to three years to act on a claim, while others require a complaint to be filed within 300 days of the employer’s illegal act—less than one year.
Employment law cases require a lot of fact-finding and detailed work. There are a lot of sensitive questions that must be asked and answered (and consequently, each answer can lead to still more questions). Because of the complexity, I ask employees who are considering a workplace discrimination claim to contact me for a consultation. This simply isn’t the place for a quick telephone conversation.
If you believe you have been denied a job, fired, or wrongly treated on the job because of race, national origin, age, gender or any of the other protected characteristic/classes, you may have an solid claim and case.
If this article raises any questions for you, contact my office for a consultation.