Employment discrimination occurs when an employee receives unfair treatment or harassment, denial of a reasonable workplace change, and improper questioning regarding genetic or medical information. It may also involve retaliation because the employee complained, or participated in job discrimination proceedings such as a workplace investigation.
Employment discrimination is a specific form of discrimination based on a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, physical or mental disability, religion, age, and gender identity.
Most states, as well as the federal government, have laws and statutes in place to prohibit private employers, organizations, and governments from discriminating against people because of these protected characteristics. It is illegal to treat an employee differently based on specific attributes which are unrelated to their job performance.
In order to prove to the court that you have experienced workplace discrimination, you will need to show that you are a member of a protected class, and that the employer treated you unfairly because you belong to a protected class. “Protected class” is a legal term used to describe groups of people qualified for special protection by law.
Thus, the above examples of employment discrimination are also examples of protected classes. Additionally, it is illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of belonging to those particular groups.
Those who belong to a protected class and have been discriminated against at work should pursue legal action. The first step, however, is to consult with your employer, or the human resources department. If, however, they ignore your concerns, or no one in the organization is able to address the issue, you may want to file a claim against your employer.
Under federal law, before you are allowed to bring a discrimination or harassment lawsuit against your employer, you are required to file an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC is a federal administrative agency which enforces the laws against job discrimination and harassment. Generally, most claims must be brought before the EEOC before the employee will be allowed to file a lawsuit. This is known as exhausting your administrative remedies.
If a lawsuit is filed before filing an administrative charge with the EEOC, or a similar state agency, the lawsuit will be invalid. The claim must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the discriminatory incident. However, if your complaint is also covered by a state or local anti-discrimination law, you have three hundred days.
Once the complaint has been received, the EEOC may conduct an investigation of your workplace. For this they will need basic information such as contact information for both the employee and the employer, as well as the date and description of the discriminatory incident. The EEOC will investigate the matter and gather all the documentation it needs to make a decision.
After the investigation, if it was found that the employer did indeed discriminate against their employee, the EEOC will work with both parties to reach a settlement. Should this fail, the agency will either file a lawsuit on the employee’s behalf, or issue a right to sue letter to the employer. If the EEOC finds that there was no discrimination, they will still issue a right to sue letter to the employee. This triggers a ninety day time limit in which the employee must file their lawsuit.
Once the lawsuit has been filed, if the employee is able to successfully prove their case in court, they have a few available legal remedies. The ultimate goal of the law is to return the employee to their same position, or nearly the same position, that they would have held if the discrimination had never occurred. Other available remedies depend on the discriminatory offense, as well as the effect it had on the employee.
The following is a list of common remedies one can expect from an employment discrimination ruling:
- The employer will be required to immediately cease all discriminatory practices, and create steps to avoid discrimination in the future;
- Compensatory damages to cover any out of pocket expenses the employee incurred as a result of the discriminatory incident, as well as any emotional harm suffered (mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.); or
- Punitive damages could be awarded in order to punish the employer if their discrimination was especially malicious or egregious.
Other remedies include making special accommodations so that the employee may perform their job as needed, back pay, attorney fees, and court costs.
As can be seen, it can be difficult to pursue a discrimination claim due to procedural laws that vary from state to state. However, discrimination against employees belonging to a protected class is illegal under both federal and state laws.
A skilled and knowledgeable discrimination attorney will be a valuable asset in proving employment discrimination, as well as the filing deadlines specific to your claim. Additionally, they can help you investigate and pursue any additional remedies while the EEOC is waiting to investigate your claim.