Employment discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates against an employee because the employee belongs to a particular social group. Both state and federal laws prohibit employers from treating workers differently based on certain attributes which are unrelated to job performance and there are different remedies available for employment discrimination.
How to Prove Employment Discrimination?
If you are suing your employer for employment discrimination, you will have to prove in court that:
- You are a member of a protected class; and
- That the employer treated you unfairly because you belong to a protected class.
A protected class means that an employee belongs to a particular group and that it is illegal to discriminate against the employee on basis on belonging to that particular group. There are different protected classes and under federal and state laws, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on basis of characteristics such as:
- National Origin;
- Sexual Orientation; and/or
- Genetic Information.
What are the Different Types of Discrimination Claims That an Employee Can Bring?
An employee who feels that they were discriminated against because of belonging to a certain group can bring different types of claims such as:
- Discriminatory Intent/Treatment: This is when an employee is treated unfairly by an employer because of the employee belongs to a protected class.
- Disparate Impact: This claim is based on the effect of an employment policy rather than the intent behind it. Disparate impacts focuses on how seemingly neutral policies, rules and practices have disproportionately adverse effects on members of a protected class.
- Retaliation: You can make this claim if an employer retaliates against you for engaging in conduct which is protected under the law such as making a complaint about discrimination or reporting safety hazards.
How to File a Complaint Regarding Employment Discrimination?
If you feel that you are being discriminated against, it is important to first talk about this with your boss or with other decision-makers in your organization. If however, they ignore your complaint or if no one in your organization is able to address it, you may consider filing a discrimination claim against your employer.
There are different remedies available at the both the state and federal level. At the federal level, the agency which enforces the laws against job discrimination and harassment is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Before you can bring a discrimination or harassment lawsuit under federal law, you are required to file an administrative charge with the EEOC or a similar state agency. If you file a lawsuit without first filing for an administrative charge with the EEOC or similar state agency, your lawsuit will be invalid. In legal terminology, this is known as “exhausting your administrative remedies”.
If you believe that you are being discriminated against at your workplace because of belonging to a protected class and if you believe that your employer is violating a federal law, you can file a formal job discrimination complaint with the EEOC called a “Charge of Discrimination”. There are strict time limits for filing a job discrimination complaint with the EEOC.
In some cases, you only have 180 days to report discrimination to the EEOC but you have 300 days if your complaint is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law. There are also agencies at the state level which deal with employment discrimination.
Similar to the federal requirement, state law will often require that employees file an administrative complaint with the department which deals with employment practices before filing a discrimination or harassment lawsuit based on state law.
The EEOC will require basic information in order to investigate such as the contact information of the employee and the employer and the date and description of the incident. Over the course of the investigation, the EEOC may also contact the parties for additional information and documents, to schedule an interview or request that the parties attend voluntary mediation to settle the issue.
After the investigation, if the EEOC finds that discrimination did occur, it will work with both parties to reach a settlement. If this is unsuccessful, the agency will either file a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf or issue a “right to sue” letter to the employee.
If its investigation leads to it conclude that discrimination did not occur, it will still issue the right to sue letter to the employee which triggers a 90-day time limit requirement for filing a lawsuit. After filing the lawsuit, if the employee successfully proves their case in court, they can be provided with certain remedies which can include:
- Special Accommodation;
- Back Pay;
- Attorney Fees;
- Court Costs; and/or
- Other monetary awards.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
Discriminating against employees who belong to a protected class is illegal under both federal and state laws. However, filing a discrimination case can be complex and proving discrimination can be difficult. In this context, it is important to consult with an experienced employment law attorney before proceeding.