It is troubling that in today’s society, people still face discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, employment discrimination happens every single day throughout the United States. Additionally, many of those who face discrimination never report it to the proper authorities. Individuals who face employment discrimination have the legal right to file discrimination claims under several federal and state laws that exist to bar employers from discriminating against employees. These laws were born out of the Civil Rights Movement and they exist today to protect employees from unethical, unfair and illegal discrimination in the workplace.
Below are five of the most well-known anti-discrimination laws. Each law is designed to protect a certain group of individuals from employment discrimination. These laws are complex, so anyone who may have a claim of employment discrimination should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss the process for filing a claim for damages.
1. Discrimination because of Race, Religion, Gender or National Origin
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of gender, religion, race and national origin. The provisions of the Act prohibit an employer from taking various actions based on any of the aforementioned categories. Such actions include but are not limited to:
- Failing to promote to a higher position
- Demoting to a lower position
- Paying a lesser wage
- Firing or otherwise terminating employment
- Refusing to hire
- Denying job-related training
- Instituting policies or practices that have a disparate impact on a specific class of individuals (i.e., using a test that would specifically hamper or screen out a specific class)
Some people mistakenly believe that Title VII is only intended to protect females and minority groups; however it protects anyone, including all genders and all races, from discrimination. In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled against employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status.
2. Discrimination Against Disability
There are two specific laws that protect disabled Americans in the workplace. The first is the Rehabilitation Act and it applies to employees hired by federal contractors or government entities. The second is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees.
Both Acts protect disabled individuals from discrimination in the workplace as well as require employers to make "reasonable accommodation" for the employee to do their job. A reasonable accommodation might include modifying the work area, work schedule or work duties. It could also entail providing unpaid time off when necessary, or installing special devices for the employee to perform their job duties.
In order for an individual to be protected under the Rehabilitation Act or the ADA, they must show that they are disabled, have a history of being disabled, or are regarded by the employer as being disabled.
3. Discrimination Through Unequal Pay
If an employer is subject to federal wage and hour laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the employer is also subject to the federal Equal Pay Act. Under this Act, employers must pay an equal wage to both men and women who perform the same work. Exceptions for merit, seniority or other non-gender reasons may justify unequal pay.
4. Discrimination Because of Age
Employers with 20 or more employees are subject to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are over the age of 40 simply due to their age. A common action under the ADEA is when an employee over the age of 40 is forced to retire or is fired and replaced with a younger employee.
5. Discrimination Due to National Origin
Enacted at around the same time as when the government strengthened laws prohibiting employers from hiring illegal aliens, the Immigration Reform and Control Act is intended to prevent employers from refusing to hire anyone who appears to be a foreigner. Employers with three or more employees are prohibited from discriminating against any United States citizen or a person who is legally permitted to work within the United States, due to their national origin.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Something that very few people understand about filing a discrimination lawsuit is the requirement to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prior to filing a lawsuit against the employer. The EEOC requires an individual—who believes that they have been the victim of employment discrimination under any one of the above laws, except the Equal Pay Act—to file a charge with the EEOC. The EEOC may direct the parties to settle the dispute through mediation; however, if the mediation fails, an EEOC investigation will follow.
If the EEOC investigation determines that the employer did not violate any laws, a Notice of Right-to-Sue will be issued, allowing the individual to file a lawsuit to settle the claim. If the EEOC investigation reveals that the employer did violate one of the anti-discrimination laws, the EEOC will attempt to resolve the claim with the employer. If the claim cannot be voluntarily resolved, the EEOC will file a lawsuit against the employer or issue a Notice of Right-to-Sue, allowing the individual to proceed with the filing of a lawsuit.
Notes of Particular Interest
If you believe that you are the victim of employment discrimination, you should contact an experienced labor law attorney or employment rights attorney as soon as possible. Deadlines to file claims with the EEOC can be as short as 180 days, and failing to file a claim within these time limits may bar you from filing a claim forever. Furthermore, the statutes of limitations for lawsuits vary but with the same result: Failing to file a lawsuit before the expiration of a statute of limitation bars the claim forever.
In addition to federal laws against discrimination, many cities, counties and states have enacted their own employment discrimination laws. Hiring an experienced employment law attorney is important because you need someone who is familiar with the federal and local laws that apply to your claim of discrimination. The sooner you consult with an attorney, the better the chance you have of recovering damages from the employer.