Employment discrimination occurs when an employee or job candidate is treated unfavorably compared to similar employees due to specific characteristics they possess, known as protected classes. Examples of protected classes include the following:
- National origin
- Religious beliefs
- Veteran status
Discrimination can manifest in various ways and multiple employment contexts, such as the following:
- Job assignments
- Working conditions
- Disciplinary actions
Employment discrimination may also involve favoritism towards one group of employees over another. For example, male employees receiving higher wages than equally qualified female employees performing the same work.
In the United States, federal employment law prohibits most private employers from discriminating against protected classes. However, federal protection only covers these specified classes, and federal laws generally apply to employers with more than fifteen employees. State laws may offer additional protections, such as for sexual orientation or marital status.
What Is Unintentional Discrimination?
The following are the two types of discrimination recognized by the federal employment discrimination law:
- Disparate Treatment: This form of discrimination, also known as intentional discrimination, involves treating employees differently because they belong to a protected class. For instance, a supervisor might grant certain benefits, like vacation time, to a select group of employees but not to others.
- Disparate Impact: Also called unintentional discrimination, disparate impact arises from seemingly neutral policies that disproportionately affect one class of employees. An example would be a fire department using a written test for promotions that unintentionally disadvantage certain racial minorities due to limited access to study materials and the test’s lack of job relevance.
Disparate treatment and disparate impact are illegal under federal discrimination law, which aims to eliminate intentional and unintentional discrimination.
How Does an Employee Bring a Discrimination Lawsuit Under Federal Law?
To file a discrimination lawsuit under federal law, an employee must first obtain a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They should also check state laws for relevant agencies offering assistance. After obtaining the right to sue, the employee must prove the following:
- Their membership in a protected class;
- Their qualifications for the job; and
- The adverse action they experienced due to discrimination.
The employer has an opportunity to respond to the allegations, and the employee bears the burden of disproving the employer’s response. There are federal caps on employment discrimination lawsuits, and an attorney can help navigate the process and options.
What Are the Defenses to Federal Employment Discrimination?
Federal employment discrimination laws prohibit employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on certain protected characteristics, such as race, sex, age, religion, national origin, and disability. Employers who engage in such discrimination may face liability under federal law.
However, employers may also raise certain defenses to claims of employment discrimination. Some of these defenses include the following:
- Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ): Employers may be able to defend against a discrimination claim if they can show that the discriminatory practice is reasonably necessary for the normal operation of their business. For example, a modeling agency may require models to be of a certain height or weight to display clothing adequately. This defense is known as the BFOQ defense.
- Business Necessity: Employers may also be able to defend against a discrimination claim by showing that the challenged practice is job-related and consistent with business necessity. This defense requires the employer to show that the challenged practice is necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the business. For example, a fire department may require firefighters to be physically able to carry heavy equipment.
- Seniority: Employers may be able to defend against a discrimination claim if the challenged practice is based on a seniority system. Seniority systems are generally permissible if applied uniformly and without regard to any protected characteristic.
- Merit: Employers may also be able to defend against a discrimination claim by showing that the challenged practice is based on merit. This defense requires the employer to show that the challenged practice is job-related and that it measures the employee’s ability to perform the job.
- Lack of Causation: Employers may also be able to defend against a discrimination claim by showing that the challenged action was not the cause of the adverse employment action. For example, an employer may be able to show that an employee was terminated for poor performance rather than because of their race or age.
- Consent: Employers may be able to defend against a discrimination claim if the employee consented to the challenged practice. For example, an employee who voluntarily agrees to work in a position that requires physical labor may be unable to later claim discrimination based on physical ability.
- Unavailability of Reasonable Accommodation: Employers may also be able to defend against a discrimination claim if they can show that providing a reasonable accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. However, the law recognizes that there may be some situations where accommodation is not possible.
What Else Should I Know About Federal Employment Discrimination Law?
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ disabilities or religious practices unless it imposes an undue hardship. The Bona Fide Occupational Qualification Defense (BFOQ) allows employers to legally refuse to hire someone based on their protected class if it directly affects their ability to perform the job.
This defense typically applies to sex and religion, not race, color, or national origin. State employment laws may vary, so it is essential to be aware of specific provisions that apply only to employees in certain states.
Do I Need an Attorney for Assistance With Federal Employment Discrimination Law?
LegalMatch is an online platform designed to connect individuals facing legal issues, such as employment discrimination, with qualified and experienced attorneys in their area. If you’re experiencing workplace discrimination, LegalMatch can assist you in several ways including the following::
- Efficiently Finding an Attorney: LegalMatch simplifies finding an attorney specializing in employment discrimination law. By submitting your case details through the platform, LegalMatch will match you with suitable attorneys in your area who have experience handling cases like yours.
- Reviewing Attorney Profiles: LegalMatch allows you to review the profiles, credentials, and client reviews of matched attorneys, so you can make an informed decision when choosing legal representation. This enables you to find an attorney who has the right expertise and aligns with your preferences and needs.
- Confidential and Secure: LegalMatch understands the sensitive nature of employment discrimination cases and is committed to maintaining your privacy. The platform is designed to protect your personal information and keep your case details confidential.
- No Obligation: Using LegalMatch to find an attorney is free and comes with no obligation to hire any of the matched attorneys. You retain full control over your decision to proceed with legal representation.
- Access to Legal Resources: LegalMatch also provides a wealth of legal resources, articles, and guides on various legal topics, including employment discrimination law. These resources can help you better understand your rights and the legal process.
If you face workplace discrimination, consult a knowledgeable and experienced discrimination attorney. They can help you understand your rights at both state and federal levels, guide you through the claim filing process, and represent you in court if necessary.