Employment discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of individuals in the workplace based on their membership in certain protected categories. These protected categories can include race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, pregnancy, and genetic information, among others.
Employment discrimination can manifest in many ways, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.
Discrimination Under Florida Laws
In addition to federal law, Florida has its own set of anti-discrimination laws outlined in the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 (FCRA). This act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap, or marital status.
The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees and protects individuals from discrimination in various employment practices, including hiring, compensation, promotion, demotion, termination, and retaliation.
Florida law is also unique in that it extends protections to individuals based on marital status, which is not a federally protected class. Moreover, some local jurisdictions within Florida may have ordinances that provide additional protections, such as protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Florida is an at-will employment state. This means that, in general, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal (i.e., discriminatory based on a protected category). Similarly, an employee can leave a job at any time for any reason without any legal consequence. However, this rule has exceptions, such as if there is a contract in place that states otherwise or if the termination is due to an illegal reason like discrimination or retaliation.
Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
At the federal level, several laws prohibit employment discrimination:
These laws are enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and often overlap with state laws, offering multiple layers of protection to employees.
What Are Florida Anti-Discrimination Laws? How Do I File an Employment Discrimination Complaint in Florida?
Florida Anti-Discrimination Laws are primarily outlined in the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992. This law protects individuals from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or marital status. Employers with 15 or more employees are covered by this law.
This law also prohibits retaliation against any individual who has opposed any practice which is unlawful under this act or because that person made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this act.
If you believe you have been discriminated against in employment in Florida, you can file a complaint with either the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the EEOC. These agencies have a work-sharing agreement, meaning that a complaint filed with one agency will be automatically filed with the other as well. This is known as “dual filing.” The process to file a complaint is as follows:
- Initiating the Complaint: You can begin the process by contacting the FCHR or the EEOC to initiate a complaint. You can visit their respective websites for detailed instructions and complaint forms. Keep in mind that complaints must typically be filed within 365 days of the alleged discriminatory act under Florida law or within 180 days for federal law.
- This can be extended to 300 days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis.
- Investigation: After filing the complaint, an investigation will be conducted by the FCHR or the EEOC. The employer will be notified, and the evidence will be gathered, which may include interviewing the person filing the complaint, the employer, and any witnesses.
- Determination: After the investigation, the agency will decide whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred. If the agency determines that discrimination did occur, it will attempt to facilitate a conciliation agreement between the employer and the employee.
- If the agency determines that discrimination did not occur, or if a conciliation agreement cannot be reached, the case will be dismissed, and the complainant will be issued a “right to sue” letter.
- Lawsuit: If you receive a “right to sue” letter, you can proceed to file a lawsuit in court. You may want to consult with an attorney before proceeding with this step.
While it is not absolutely necessary to file your claim with the EEOC (as you can file directly with the FCHR), it can be beneficial due to the work-sharing agreement between the EEOC and the FCHR. Filing with either agency will automatically file your complaint with the other agency, preserving your rights under both state and federal law.
However, the deadlines for filing may differ. Under federal law, you generally need to file a charge within 180 days of the alleged violation. However, this can be extended to 300 days if a state or local law also covers the same form of discrimination. Meanwhile, Florida law provides 365 days to file a claim. Therefore, if you’re approaching the 300-day limit, filing with the EEOC becomes more critical to preserve potential federal claims.
The decision about where to file can depend on the specifics of your situation, so consulting with a lawyer may be beneficial. They can help guide you through the process and determine the best course of action based on your unique circumstances.
Exception to Protected Classes
While anti-discrimination laws are in place to protect individuals from unfair treatment, there are certain exceptions where an employer might lawfully consider a protected trait when making an employment decision. Here are a few exceptions:
- Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ): This exception allows an employer to hire employees based on their religion, sex, or national origin when it is reasonably necessary to the normal operation of that particular business or enterprise. For instance, a religious organization might lawfully require its employees to adhere to its religion. However, the BFOQ exception is very narrow and doesn’t apply to race or color.
- Seniority Systems and Merit Systems: If a seniority or merit system is in place, employers can make decisions based on those systems, even if they result in a disparate impact on a protected class, as long as the systems are legitimate, nondiscriminatory, and not designed to evade the effects of anti-discrimination laws.
- Affirmative Action Plans: Employers may lawfully consider race, color, sex, or national origin under an affirmative action plan designed to eliminate conspicuous racial, ethnic, or gender imbalances in the workplace.
- Age Discrimination: In some circumstances, employers can discriminate based on age if there is a bona fide reason that is not based on age. For example, certain jobs might require intense physical activity or have mandatory retirement ages set by law.
Remember, these exceptions are limited and must be used properly and judiciously to remain lawful.
Should I Consult an Attorney in Florida for Discrimination Matters?
Yes, if you believe you have been a victim of employment discrimination, it is highly recommended to consult with a Florida discrimination lawyer who handles employment law cases. They will understand the nuances of discrimination laws at both state and federal levels. This is a complex area of law, and the complaint and potential litigation process can be challenging without legal assistance.
An attorney can guide you through each step of the process, from gathering evidence to support your claim, determining whether to file with the EEOC or FCHR, negotiating a potential settlement, or representing you in court if necessary.
LegalMatch is a valuable resource to help find the right attorney for you. Through LegalMatch, you can find a qualified, experienced Florida discrimination attorney who can help you understand your rights and legal options. The process is simple – submit your case, and LegalMatch will connect you with an attorney who suits your needs and is ready to help. Don’t wait – protect your rights and consult with an attorney as soon as possible if you’re facing discrimination at work.